IWUHoops takes you 'Inside the Moments that Reveal the Heartbeat of a Champion.' This 4 week devotional book will challenge you to dream big dreams, pray fearless prayers, and take small steps all in expectation of what God can do in your life...
Jeff Clark is on his 10th season on staff for Coach Tonagel with IWUHoops. The Wildcats have won 20 games and been ranked in the top 6 in the nation each year he has been on the coaching staff, with an overall record of 271-69 (.797). IWU had won 20 games in only two seasons in school history before this stretch.
January is always one of the toughest months of the basketball season. The competition to move up the standings is fierce, and every team is looking for the fastest way to get to the top. Would you be surprised to learn that we train our players that the fastest way to get to the top was to go down?
Before you call us crazy, let us explain.
Jesus often used stories about the trades of his day like fishing and farming that began with something like this—
What if Jesus were living in Indiana today? Would the subject of his stories change to something the common person could more easily identify with? Who knows, maybe He would be telling parables about something that most of the people in this state can understand and relate to—basketball!
Our program often wonders how Jesus would finish a parable that began like this-
"The Kingdom of God is like a basketball team..."
How do you go about aligning a basketball team, or any group, with Kingdom principles? A Christian leader recently challenged us to think and pray through two questions. The gap between the two will often show you where to start.
1. What is God's ideal in this context?
2. What is the current reality?
As we answer these questions, we find a lot of good—and celebrate it. We also find a lot that is wrong—and confront and stop it!
With this in mind, it's fascinating to dig deeper into some of the most successful basketball teams in the past several seasons. Words like 'self-sacrifice' and 'joy' are often used to describe the Warriors. Descriptions like ‘outliers of unselfishness’ are used about the Spurs. After Duke won their most recent NCAA championship, Coach K described the team as ‘being like brothers. There are no egos in our locker room.’
Wouldn't it be powerful if the first words that came to mind when people thought of Christians were 'self-sacrificial' and 'joyful'? What would your business look like if the employees were described as ‘outliers of unselfishness’? What would your church look like if there were 'no egos' on the staff or in the membership?
This is in stark contrast to some of the teams that build around a collection of the best talent who sometimes appear to have their own agendas. Too many players in this generation give the impression of being lazy, entitled and focused on self rather than disciplined, grateful and focused on team. They too often play for coaches who seem to find their identity from success rather than receive their identity from God.
That takes us back to the downward path to the top. We believe that it is not until each of our players goes 'down' that we will find our most success as a team. We first go down to our knees in prayer and then we go down with a towel and basin to serve our teammates. It is amazing to see what happens on the court when every player and coach in our locker room starts to live out this mentality. Our offense gets better shots as our players focus on making each other better, our defense gets more cohesive as they play for each other and our players play with more passion as they take their focus off themselves. Talk about a formula for success on the basketball court!
As Coach Tonagel often tells our guys 'if you want to be first, first find a way to be third.'
Our dream is that people who come to see our team play will leave the gym and recognize they are seeing something that is counter-cultural and unique. Maybe they wouldn’t be able to articulate it in this way, but our team would be a 'living parable' that pointed people to Jesus!
What about you? Where is the gap between the current reality of your situation and God's ideal?
Coach, are you trying to raise yourself or lift others? How can you invest in players to promote their growth rather than exploit their talents to promote your own reputation?
Player, rather than competing WITH your teammate for awards or attention, how can you start to compete FOR your teammate in a way that allows them to succeed?
Parent, how can you use words to infuse life in your children rather than plant seeds of doubt and insecurity?
Teacher, how can you instruct your students in a way that they are inspired to live fearlessly?
Financial planner, how can you instill generosity in your clients?
Assembly line worker, how can you work as though working for the Lord and not for men?
Administrator, how can you focus on the operations of your area without forgetting to love the people who work for you?
Celebrate what is good. Confront what is wrong. Who knows, as you start to answer these questions and close the gap by taking the downward path, others may start to see your life and work as a 'living parable' and you might even find yourself rising to the top!
The IWU Coaching staff takes serious the advice in Proverbs 13:20 that if you 'walk with the wise you will become wise'. Not only is there an emphasis placed on the character of the players on the team, there is also an intentionality about putting the players around men who serve as examples of the Christ-like leaders we desire to produce. One of these men is Dr. Keith Newman, who serves as CEO of Residential Education and Executive Vice President at IWU. Whether it was as a homocide detective, pastor or CEO, Dr. Newman has been placed in unique situations and leadership positions throughout his life, and has impacted people for Christ at every turn. You can follow Dr. Newman on Twitter or at his blog 57 Hobo. Here are his reflections after taking a recent trip with the IWU team to connect with inmates through the game of basketball at an area prison.
Have you ever missed a blessing? I have and I almost missed another one a few weeks ago. Coach Tonagel e-mailed me in early December to inquire about my availability and interest in traveling with the team for a visit to the Miami Correctional Facility during the Christmas break. I looked at my calendar hoping that something was already planned. I confess that I did not want to go inside a prison…again. Years ago as a Homicide Detective with the Houston, Texas Police Department I had spent time interviewing offenders inside prison walls and on each occasion I would hear the clank of the cell doors as I exited and be delighted to once again be on the outside. I found prisons to be incredibly depressing so the idea of returning, even with a group of guys I love, held very little appeal to me.
Now Coach T is someone I greatly admire and respect and when he invites you to do something it is difficult to decline. So reluctantly I agreed to join the guys for the visit. The night before our trip Coach T sent me a text indicating that there might be a paperwork problem that would prevent us from making the trip. I tried hard to hide my disappointment but inside I was celebrating. I don’t have to go to prison! Yet the next morning my joy turned to sadness when I learned that the trip was still on.
With a less than stellar attitude I joined the coaching staff and team for the visit arranged by one of our wonderful Indiana Wesleyan University alums, Scott Kenworthy. Once inside the prison we followed the extensive entry protocol and then were led to a gymnasium where our team spent about 60 minutes in drills and contests with a group of men that they had never met and knew nothing about. Their common bond was a love of basketball. I watched with a great sense of pride as our players and coaches cheered these men on and celebrated their successes in this brief respite from a normal week inside the walls. It was a blessing to see the smiles on all the faces and watch the camaraderie develop even in a short period of time. But more blessings were on the way.
When the basketballs were put away and we gathered for a few minutes before our departure, Coach T shared some inspiring thoughts about his own experience and search for an identity apart from what he could do on the basketball court. He invited others to tell a bit of their story. Several of our players spoke with eloquence and conviction about their faith journey and what God was doing in their lives. And then, to my surprise, and delight, our new friends took the floor and each began to give us a peek into their world. These men who we had only met a short time before began to speak with a transparency and authenticity that could not be ignored. At least two of them had played NCAA Division I basketball, one even made it as a professional basketball player overseas; another shared that he had earned a Masters degree. In the course of telling their stories two men revealed that they had committed murder. Each man that spoke that afternoon talked about the importance of hanging out with the right group of people and making good decisions, something they had failed to do and were now paying a price.
As we made our way through the prison yard towards the exit I had a whole new attitude and I realized how I almost missed a blessing. The experience changed me and made me look forward to a return visit. Since that day I’m spending more time counting my blessings, praying for some new friends, and grateful for the “I Am Third” example I see lived out in the lives of our players and coaches.
It takes a special person to be a part of IWU Hoops. Talent is a prerequisite, but it takes much more than that. A player needs to be willing to sacrifice his own self interests and focus all of his efforts on helping his teammate succeed. While this goes against the grain of basketball culture, it has led to deep bonds of friendship developing amongst the men who spend time in IWU's locker room. One of these young men, Jackson Murphy, began his freshman year in the midst of some very challenging times. He recounts the adversity that he has faced, and shares how important his new brothers have been to him in this time.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. – Genesis 50:20
As I reflect back on the past six months of my life, I cannot believe how much I have changed. I knew when I came to IWU that I was going to be challenged to grow in my faith, but I thought that most of the tough times would come from what I experienced as a first time college student and athlete. Little did I know that as I transitioned to college, one of my best friends would pass away from brain cancer and someone would take the life of my cousin. It is impossible to explain how important my new family of teammates and coaches has been to me in this challenging time.
When I received news in November that my cousin Amanda was in critical condition after suffering head trauma from a home invasion, I immediately drove to the Indianapolis hospital to be with family. The whole time we waited, I was constantly receiving encouraging texts and calls from my teammates and coaches who had just wrapped up a game back in Marion.
On November 11th 2015, the Lord welcomed Amanda home. Although she was rejoicing with the Savior, it left many of us still on Earth with heavy hearts and unanswered questions. Why would someone commit such a senseless act against someone we love? How is this a part of God’s plan? There were and still are many questions like these that have kept me up at night, but it was through this time that I felt the Lord beginning to do a great work inside of me. These few months were the first time I have been forced to deal with real adversity, and because of the environment I’ve surrounded myself with I’ve also grown spiritually in many ways I didn’t even know was possible.
The days and weeks after I returned to campus were very difficult and would’ve been nearly impossible to overcome without the constant prayers and support from friends, teammates, coaches, professors and many more. One of the moments that was most powerful for me was when our senior leaders, Jonny Marlin and Josh Mawhorr, got out of bed to come and pray with me at 1 AM the night I returned to campus.
Although I have had to deal with these two burdens of loss, I have remained hopeful in the promises that God has for my life and the life of others. 'Tomorrow isn’t promised' is no longer just a saying in my life. The lives of both my friend Josh and cousin Amanda were not wasted as they had more of an impact than most people will in their lifetime. The awareness of the brevity of life on Earth should ultimately make us ask ourselves two questions...
1. Are you a believer of Jesus Christ?
2. If you believe Jesus defeated death and you have a personal relationship with Him, what have you done and what will you do to further the Kingdom of God?
There have been so many ways I have grown as I have reflected on the way Josh and Amanda lived their lives but the biggest thing is that I have begun to sense a call to ministry. These changes in my life are one example of how God wastes nothing.
Being a part of the IWU family and men’s basketball team have helped tremendously in shaping my character and have challenged me spiritually. I am very thankful for having a roommate and best friend like Trevor Waite to help me process Amanda’s death. The IWU locker room is a Christ-centered environment and I love being surrounded by men who are committed to become closer to the Lord and fully living their lives for God. I’ve experienced tremendous growth in my personal life since I have been at IWU and cannot wait to find out what God has in store for me next.
Will you join me in always remaining hopeful and giving your trials over to the Lord? God’s perfect plan will develop in your life if you simply allow it.
-Jackson Murphy, Freshman
The men who are involved with IWU Hoops know that they are going to be put in positions where they are forced to grow. In the last several years, team members have traveled all over the world to places like New Zealand, the Dominican Republic, Hawaii and the Bahamas. Whenever they travel, the team is challenged to do something that they may not otherwise get to do. This may be feeding children who are malnourished in the Dominican Republic or caving in remote locations in New Zealand. The goal is to create experiences that will push the team out of their comfort zones, creating memories along the way. On the recent trip to Phoenix, the squad drove to the Grand Canyon and spent a full day hiking. Grant Evans, who hit 8 threes in the first game on the trip, shares about the trip from his perspective.
If you have ever been around the basketball program at IWU you would understand that winning basketball games is not our only mission. Building an identity around Christ and creating an everlasting brotherhood with our teammates and coaches is something that we focus on and take an extreme amount of pride in.
Our recent Holiday trip to Arizona was another step in our team understanding that winning on the court is the result of playing fearlessly for God and having strong team chemistry. We were able to experience once in a lifetime opportunities, win a few basketball games, and dive into the Word. Here is what went down…
Our first day was highlighted by a tour of the US Airways Center, the home of the Phoenix Suns. Bret Burchard, a former Taylor University basketball player is the Head Video Coordinator for the Suns and was kind enough to show us around the arena, practice facility and locker room. In addition to the tour, Bret also put a few of our guys through a series of ball handling drills that even challenged Jonny Marlin, our All-American senior point guard.
The next two days consisted of winning two games, highlighted by a school record 20 three pointers in our first game. I was proud of our team as we faced adversity in both games and were able come together and find a way to win. In addition to the games, each day one of the coaches would lead a Bible study that centered around the topic of 'Identity.' We were all challenged through Bible study and conversation with our teammates. I've never been around a team that was so willing to grow together in the Word.
When the games were over, we made the four-hour trip to the Grand Canyon. This turned out to be the highlight of the trip for the team.
A few days before we departed for Arizona, Coach Tonagel told us that we would be hiking the Grand Canyon. He told us to bring a sweatshirt or a light jacket because they were experiencing unseasonably cooler weather this year. We all followed his directions and thought we were prepared as we woke up to take our “casual” hike through the Grand Canyon.
With three inches of fresh snow on the ground and cold wind blowing in our face, we set out in our Nike running shoes and began our seven and half hour, 12 mile, nonstop hike. Little did we know we know that this journey through one of God’s most beautiful creations would be life-changing.
Our six-mile hike down the mountain consisted of many laughs, many falls, and many pictures. The hike back up was a different story. At first, we felt sorry for ourselves. We complained about our tight backs and our tired legs. We made excuses. After realizing that complaining would get us nowhere, our negative words were soon turned into positive statements and words of encouragement. It was a challenging and growing experience that I got to go through with my best friends.
Looking back on my experience in Arizona I am truly grateful for everything I experienced. We grew as a team and got to experience things we may never get to again. The experiences were incredible, but it was the people that were on the trip that made it one that I will not forget.
-Grant Evans, Sophomore
November 26, 2015
If you spend much time around the IWU Locker Room, you will often hear the phrase, 'Man I got it good!' The Wildcat players understand that a grateful attitude can be the great equalizer, as we realize how much we have been given as we focus on God's blessings.
Ethan Whaley is in his ninth year with IWUHoops, including the past five as an assistant coach. He is known for his infectious energy and passion for the growth of the players he coaches. To celebrate Thanksgiving, Coach Whaley takes some time to reflect on why he has it good.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing."
Every Thanksgiving, as my family goes around the table, I say the standard, "I'm thankful for my family, my friends, my job, and all the other many blessings God has given me." While that is true, I always leave the table thinking, "What a generic expression of gratitude."
When I woke up this morning, I began to pray over my life and the areas that are so often overlooked. "Lord, open my eyes to blessings and opportunities that have molded and shaped me into the man I am today." As I prayed, I was amazed at what He laid upon my heart. I thought God would inspire thoughts of the different people who have blessed me without my knowledge or remind me of a great experience that I took for granted. Instead, He urged me to consider where I would be without the experiences of pain and struggle in my life. I was reminded of the times when I was faced with a choice: selfishness or faithfulness. While this seems like a simple choice, the status quo is to choose the path of least resistance. The path with the least amount of pain. The faithful route will require us to elevate the quo - we will be forced out of our comfort zone.
When I consider the scripture out of James 1, I can't help but think that the Lord doesn't expect me to be shouting from the rooftops in a world where our homes are being invaded, our cities are being bombed, our loved ones are taken away, and our livelihood is at stake.
I believe He expects and wants us to experience this pain. This pain is what inspires our decision to get through the struggle. Once we've experienced the pain, we must make the decision to remain faithful to our Creator. That is where joyfulness comes in. We must take joy in the fact that God already knows how this will turn out. He already has a plan to make us a more complete person than we previously were. As James tells us in the ladder part of the passage, the end goal of the trial is not to be "pain free". Rather, to be "mature and complete, lacking nothing." Ultimately, that's where we all want to be. Whether it's in our faith, relationships, professions, or finances, we all want to be in a place where we lack nothing. If we take that approach and remain faithful to God through the process (which could last a day, a week, or even the rest of our lives), we can take comfort in the fact that when it is over, one thing will be for certain: "We will be mature and complete, lacking nothing."
When it's my turn to express gratitude, I'll be singing a different tune. Of course, I'm thankful for my incredible family, friends, and the best job in the world. This year, however, I'm choosing to be grateful for the trials God has allowed to shape and mold me into the man I am today. I'm thankful for the example of Davey Blackburn and so many other individuals who have committed to elevating the quo in times where it would be so easy to maintain the status quo. It is with this spirit of thankfulness that I approach the table
IWU went 2-0 this past weekend at the Caleb Dimmich Memorial, defeating #7 Union and Great Lakes Christian. The games honor the life of Caleb Dimmich (read about his impact and see the locker room named after him here). Caleb’s father David is an assistant coach for the Wildcats. David focuses on player relations and has been an instrumental part of the Wildcats recruiting success, including the signing of Lane Mahurin. Lane is a junior for the Wildcats and was named Mr. Hustle at the 2014 NAIA National Tournament as well as an NAIA 3rd Team All American as a Sophomore.
This past weekend marked my third time participating in the Caleb Dimmich Memorial that pays homage to a former Wildcat who I never knew. I remember going in to the games as a freshman and not having a full grasp on the importance of this weekend...that was until I got to participate and see what it meant to this program.
Dave and Kristin Dimmich were an instrumental part of my coming to IWU. We have a team and program that acts and functions like a family, and I quickly realized that the Dimmich’s are as much a part of the family as any of the coaches or players. I discovered that the games that honor their son meant much more than normal. I was playing for a brother I never got to know, and I was playing for a great man gone far too soon.
I have learned who Caleb was as a man by witnessing the strength and trust in God that the Dimmich family displays. Anyone who knows Kristin and Dave understands how much they do for others. They always seem bright, genuine, and loving rather than bitter for their loss. They live out the ‘I Am Third’ life that has founded the work of this team.
Now that I am a junior and have seen the inside of the program, the Caleb Dimmich Memorial is one of the most important weekends of the season to me because we truly play for much more than a win, but with love and for the memory of a great man from a great family.
Lane Mahurin, Junior
Greg Tonagel has been the head coach at IWU for 10 years, amassing a 268-78 career record and has been named Crossroads League Coach of the Year six times and NAIA National Coach of the Year in 2014. You can listen to him talk about 'IAm3' here.
Years ago I read an article in the Huffington post titled, Prayer is Not a Team Sport. The author argued that prayer doesn't have a place in modern team sports. I couldn't disagree more. It's not that I think prayers are only for last second heaves or miracle comebacks but instead, prayers are for transforming lives—and I believe that coaches are in the business of transforming lives.
Prayer has become a big part of our program. We pray because we don't have all the answers. We pray because in a sports-crazed culture it's easy to lose perspective. We pray because our players have bigger needs than an improved jump-shot. We pray because we don't know how to lead these young men to become the next generation of godly leaders—but we serve a God who does.
Let me share with you 3 simple things we pray over our team. They’re more important to us than success, standings or fame. We’re not praying for more victories on the court, these are just our dreams for God to make these boys into great men off the court.
1. Lord, give them weakness today.
Give (player’s name) just enough weakness today so that he doesn’t rely upon his own strength but instead experiences your power (2 Cor 12:9).
2. Lord, give them a desire to be “third” today.
Teach (player’s name) that if he wants to be first, he first needs to find a way to be third. Shift his focus from himself and onto you. Free him from the tyranny of self-interest so he can use his gifts and abilities to help those around him succeed (Matthew 22:37-40).
3. Lord, give them a fearless mindset.
Help (player’s name) learn to love God and others perfectly, and to turn his focus away from the circumstances that motivate his fear and onto a belief in something greater than his circumstance. May he play and live in freedom (I John 4:18)!
Praying these things has changed our entire program. This week, start off your day by adding these verses to your prayer time. Maybe even try starting a coaches meeting off with prayer. Who knows, God may transform your players and better yet, he may even transform you!