"Hunger, Habits, Humility"
"Hunger, Habits, Humility"
Head Coach Greg Tonagel
As the season wraps up, we find ourselves in a different place. When I say a different place, I am not referencing the fact a year has passed and we are now older. As you have read through each unique story, this year produced a lot of growth inside each of us. The “Journey” of 2016-2017 transformed us. The wins and losses shaped us. The ups and downs molded us. The high and lows guided us. The frustration and joy motivated us. In the end, we find ourselves in a new place spiritually. Our growth reminds us that God is never done with transforming us, and as a result, we are not the same people as we were yesterday.
You could say the scouting report to begin the year described our team as apathetic, inconsistent, and inwardly focused. The narrative of our basketball season reads that God took a team of apathy to a team of hunger. He took inconsistency and formed habits. He took inward ambition and redirected it to the benefit of others. In short, we discovered a new game plan to attack life fearlessly—HUNGER/HABITS/HUMILITY.
Hunger: Does your appetite produce comfort or growth in your life?
Proverbs 16:26 says, “it is good for workers to have an appetite: an empty stomach drives them on.”
Let me just say it simply; comfort is overrated. It is easy to take the path of least resistance. It is easy to follow the crowd. It is easy to skip a rep or a suicide. Yes, comfort is easy on the front end, but it also never pays up on the back end. It always leaves us unsatisfied.
We all have appetites, and thus we all have hunger pangs. You know, those stomach cramps you get when you are starving and you can smell your favorite food? It’s your bodies way of telling you it needs to be fed. In the same way, our hearts have hunger pangs.
You see, we were made in God’s image, sin has marred that image, but through Christ we can see the restoration of that image. The hunger we experience in life is that cry back to be reimaged. Next time you think you need more power, possessions, or popularity in order to make your life more comfortable, perhaps you can stop and recognize that what you really hunger for is more of God. This is where “IAm3” begins. He is the true desire of our hearts and the only one that satisfies.
God is not our mascot or our good luck charm. We don’t just ask him to cheer us on and give us victory. No, he is the game in the final analysis. He coaches us, calls the plays, achieves the victories, and the write-up in the paper the next day is all about him!
Habits “Do your habits today, match up with your dreams of tomorrow?”
Everybody wants to talk about potential in the recruiting process. The conversations are often driven by athleticism, length, and talent. The real marker in realized potential often lies beneath the surface in a person’s habits. To gauge a person’s potential, I believe you must be privy to their habits.
Habits are a powerful force that can influence us one way or the other. Stephen Curry’s story proves the positive influence of habits. From a scrawny, under recruited high school player to the NBA MVP, we are offered a window into the power of habits. The deep threes and amazing handles did not come by accident. They are the result of intentional, disciplined habits.
Developing the right habits provides influential shaping power over the course of one’s life. The college years are some of the most trajectory shaping years of a person’s life. It is true that you must start with a big dream. However, the habits in pursuing your dream will show up as a major difference 10 years down the road.
Proverbs 27:7: “One who is full refuses honey, but even bitter food tastes sweet to the hungry.” This verse tells us that “self-restraint (habits of discipline) increases enjoyment (dreams); whereas, over-indulgence produces apathy.
You will become what you decide, not what you want to become. In other words, your life is not shaped by your dreams but by your discipline. Habits become character become destiny. The habits of intentional prayer and time in the Word shaped us this year immensely.
Humility: Will you become a coach/teammate who takes on the weight of somebody else’s spiritual growth?
“Proverbs 22:4 True humility and fear of the LORD lead to riches, honor, and long life.”
The natural result of a hungry, driven, and disciplined person will be success. The question then becomes; what to do with that success? Was it granted so you can prove everybody wrong? Was it gained for self-glory? Does the success actually taste as good as you thought? Perhaps, what we are really after is fulfillment, not success.
I can tell you there have been times in my own life I have been disappointed with the feeling of success—when not shared in humility. In our program we define humility as leveraging the gifts you have for the sake of others. When we take what we have, and point it at others, we find fulfillment while others find theirs too.
This year proved that being on a team is about more than winning games. Each player learned this year that they were put on this team for certain purposes, and their own comfort was not one of them. They were on this team to invest into each other. They realized that together, they could help each other grow in hunger, habits and humility.
As a result, we all are in a different place. “The Journey” has transformed us.
Lane Mahurin, Senior
As we walked to the locker room after losing to Union in the Fab 4, I knew the journey was over. I just didn’t know how to feel.
Basketball had been a part of my life for longer than I could remember. Almost my entire family played the game, and my father has been a successful coach. I have lived my whole life with basketball as part of my future. Looking forward to playing and making a seat at my family’s table, looking forward to playing under my father, and looking forward to playing at IWU with my brother.
When the buzzer sounded that game, it was all over. It was an odd feeling. While I walked with the team, I tried to wrap my head around the suddenness of it. I felt relieved. I felt proud of my effort throughout my basketball-life, and I was proud of the career I had been blessed with. To be a part of the different programs and the peoples’ lives that basketball allowed is an honor. I have learned many different tough lessons through sport and I have been given more friends and family than one man deserves.
While all of that was going through my mind on the walk to the locker room, the emotions came on suddenly as I walked in and was surrounded by guys who I call family. It’s hard to describe the emotions of the room knowing it will be your last time together as a group. Everyone was visibly upset that the end to our work had come. I have been in rooms where we have won championships and rooms where we have come up short. All the time put in throughout the year had ended – and not in our favor.
I tried to take it all in as I listened to the final locker room talk I will ever be a part of. All prayed. Some cried. I tried to make it around to everyone and thank them for making my time here at Indiana Wesleyan special.
Still I couldn’t shake that peaceful feeling. I was thankful for my time in the game. I was happy that I got to give it my all with these guys, accomplishing more on the court over four years than I ever dreamed possible. My competitive side stepped away and I just enjoyed the last time I would get to be on a team – and in the Wildcat family.
I understand I will never really leave it all behind, but I knew the feeling will never be the same. Instead of crying over the bitterness of defeat, I tried to capture that team feeling, and I tried to re-live as many memories with these guys as I could. I thanked God for the opportunity, for giving me strength, and for the people in my life who gave me strength when I wasn’t strong.
I got my stuff together and walked into the hallway from the locker room for the final time, no longer a collegiate athlete, and was welcomed by a big IWU family. I hugged my parents, in-laws, brother, and my beautiful wife. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the support through the years of my journey as a basketball player.
I knew that the journey was over, but I also knew that the journey had prepared me for the next phase of my life with my faith, my family, and my career. I am excited to see where the next journey takes me!
"The Root of Confidence"
"The Root of Confidence"
Assistant Coach Jonny Marlin
I had no doubt in my mind that Ben Carlson was going to sink the biggest free throws of the season.
The score was tied with under two seconds remaining in our Elite 8 matchup against Tabor. Even for the best shooters in the world, hitting two free throws to win a game is nerve-wrecking, especially when a trip to the Fab 4 is on the line. As Ben stepped up to take the shots, I remembered those moments in my career when I had to take game winners. It’s hard to describe the adrenaline that started to pump through my veins with everything riding on my shoulders, and I imagined Ben was feeling the same thing in that moment. Even with that in mind, I had 100% confidence that Ben would come through.
Now, if this would have been just one year prior, I would have told our guys to get ready for overtime. The moment would have been too big for him as his preparation would have been minimal.
However, when Ben stepped up to the line, all I could think about was the amount of work that Ben had put in to prepare for that moment. A man who had been defined by apathy and was living a lukewarm life had become one of our hardest workers and was on fire for everything he faced.
I’m a firm believer that you have to place yourself in certain scenarios before you have can success in them. It is so rare to just stumble upon success, especially in sports! And I knew Ben had put himself in position where he was not stumbling in to anything.
In the 2016 summer, Ben transformed his body by losing 40 pounds! He disciplined his diet, ran extra sprints, put up extra shots, and at the end of every workout, he had to hit two consecutive free-throws. It was so fitting!
So when Ben Carlson stepped up in the final two seconds of the Elite Eight game, I knew those free throws were going to be good because he hit those free-throws time and time again throughout the whole off-season. It didn’t matter how tired he was in that game since I knew we pushed him even harder the summer before.
The look on Ben’s face was not one of fear, but of joy because he knew that in a few moments, he would be celebrating with his team as they marched into the Fab 4!
Trevor Waite, Sophomore
There was a look in Bob’s eyes during tournament time that gave me such confidence. I swear I’m not making this up… when Bob had ‘the look’ I knew we weren’t losing.
When our team was warming up for our first round game and I was rebounding for Bob, he was knocking down a lot of his practice shots. He was locked in. This was the first time I saw ‘the look’ in his eyes. I could see his confidence building with every shot that went in. As our warm-up time came to an end and the game was about to start, I sat down on the bench with a sense of reassurance. There was no way Bob Peters was going to let his team go out in the first round.
Bob hit big shots throughout the tournament, such as the three free throws he made in a row with under a minute left after Tabor had come back from 15 down to take their first lead of the second half. Or the 3-pointer he made with under a minute left in the Sweet 16 after Northwestern had tied the game after being down 8 with four to go.
But ‘the look’ that I will always remember came in the first half of that game. It had been a back and forth battle, with the lead changing multiple times. When Northwestern took a seven point lead with under three minutes left, it seemed like momentum had shifted in their favor. With the time ticking down in the first half, we ran a play for Bob to get the last shot. We had cut the lead to one, so any bucket at this point would be a huge momentum swing going into halftime. With a few seconds left, Bob got the ball at the top of the key and hit a dagger three to put us up two to end the half. As the team was running to the locker room, Bob gave me ‘the look’ and yelled, “it’s over! That’s it!”
It was only halftime, but everyone knew in the locker room that we weren’t losing that game!
Bob Peters, Senior
“Great moments are born from great opportunity!”
This line from Herb Brooks pregame speech before the 1980 USA Men’s Hockey team took the ice against the Soviet Union describes the impact of Joel Okafor on our Fab 4 run.
After being benched for much of the season, Joel was presented with an opportunity to start for us in the national tournament after we realized his presence and energy on the court was contagious to our whole team.
It takes a fearless coaching staff to shakeup the starting line-ups during the biggest moment of our season. Joel did not disappoint. From the opening tip of the first game, there was no doubt that Joel would provide more energy, toughness and defense than any player in the tournament.
Joel capatilzed on his opportunity with some big time moments. After only making six free throws the entire season, Joel calmly sank a free throw with less than two seconds left to give us a one point lead in our Sweet 16 game!
More importantly, Joel had the responsibility to guard some high level players every game, and did an incredible job. This culminated in our 64-62 victory over Tabor to advance to the Fab 4. We could not have won this tight game without Joel limiting a 1st Team All-American point guard to less than half of his average in points and assists.
Without Joel’s presence on the court this year, we would not have been able to make it to our third Fab 4 in my career. Even though his opportunities had been limited for several months, Joel was ready to respond with some great moments when the opportunity final presented itself! When I look back on my senior year, these are some of the moments I will never forget.
Aaron Murray, Senior
The day we arrived in Branson, I got a text from Josh Mawhorr that said, "Murr-dog I want to know how you're going to be praying with people this week."
I immediately remembered the impact that a prayer-walk with Josh the year before had on my spiritual growth and tournament success. I knew we needed to repeat this pattern so as the team wrapped up film at the end of each night, we began to take these prayer walks with different teammates.
It wasn’t that we thought God would give us success if we prayed, but we knew the significance of engaging in spiritual conversation with our brothers.
I remember one-night praying with my roommate Joel and as we were praying for the coaches, he prayed a blessing over Coach Clark's pregnant wife. It struck me that in a moment when most would be focused on their on-court success, Joel was interceding for someone who could do nothing in return and for which he would reap no tangible benefit.
On another night, I was unsettled and I couldn’t figure out why. I felt an enormous amount of pressure and fear building up inside me. Knowing that the coaches have emphasized the fearless mentality in our program, I grabbed Coach Clark and asked him to pray with me. Walking and praying with my coach gave me the assurance that God was with me, even in times where I felt unsettled.
Coach Marlin and Grant Prible took a prayer walk with me that turned humorous on another night. As we took turns praising God for the things we were thankful for, I began running out of ideas before the others. I remember the look they both game me when I thanked God for laminin. They looked at me like I was crazy. I explained that laminin is a molecule which holds together the cells of our body. It's shaped like a cross and so in the fiber of our being we are literally held together by a cross—“Man, I got it good!”
While our run toward the national title came up short, it did not change the focus of our experience in Branson. Pursuing Christ is our primary goal. On these walks, getting smaller by aggressively humbling ourselves before God reminded us that basketball is secondary in our pursuit of greatness.
While IWUHoops will always contend for national titles, we believe we are after something greater than a trophy. The more important work is for the men involved with the program to be transformed into the image of Christ!
Dr. David Peters-Nuerosurgeon, 2010 IWUHoops Alum
For the last nine years I’ve spent spring break in Branson, Missouri with IWUHoops. This year, as I finish my last few months of medical school and prepare to become a neurosurgeon, I was asked why I would spend the one week I had off sleeping on a hotel floor and watching game film for a team that I am no longer a part of.
The answer is simple—this feels like home.
My favorite part of coming back is getting immersed in the ‘IAm3rd’ culture of the program. Every year in Branson there are experiences of spiritual growth and encouragement that are more exciting than any buzzer beater on the court. I love to observe teammates praying for each other, sharing how God is speaking to them through His Word, encouraging one another, and serving others. There is a palpable excitement around the program as coaches and players are excited to see how God is going to speak to them and show them what the next opportunity will be for them to act out their faith.
The atmosphere is contagious, and always makes me want to do anything I can to help. The coaches let me ‘rejoin the team’ for the week, and I am happy to help scout, watch film of opposing teams, run errands, join in the team devotionals and prayer, and do whatever small things I can to support the team.
Returning to Branson always reminds me how special my time as a player and coach within the program was. The years of greatest growth in my life happened when I was at IWU. When I came in I was very self-centered and apathetic about certain aspects of my life. If I had told the coaches then I was going to be a neurosurgeon, they would have laughed me out of the room. Through the coaches’ leadership and the help of my teammates I began to shift my focus off of myself. Those four years altered the trajectory of my life.
The many lessons I learned through basketball have been vital to helping me succeed as a medical student. As I prepare to have the responsibility of taking care of sick patients in the hospital, I know that playing college basketball at IWU was the best thing I could have done to prepare me for life after basketball as a doctor. My time helped shape me from an apathetic freshman to a graduating medical student.
Even after graduation, the coaches at IWU have continued to invest in my growth. It is no surprise to me that every year there are more guys who make the trip to spend a week in Branson. It has become an unlikely place for us old-timers to have a yearly family reunion. I know that I will continue to come back no matter where life takes me because I want to support the program in hopes that many other young men can grow and benefit from the program just like I have!
Grant Evans, Junior
Six summers ago at an AAU practice I met a jacked 14 year old that spoke English that I could barely understand. He had just moved to the United States and was the newest member of an AAU team filled with guys who had already known each other for years. Little did I know that I would be playing with Joel Okafor again at Indiana Wesleyan.
Throughout that summer Joel became more than just a teammate. He became a best friend and a brother. I spent almost everyday with Joel that summer as he stayed in my hometown. Everywhere we went around town people loved Joel. When I take Joel back home now, it often feels like my friends and family are more excited to see him than they are to see me!
Growing close to Joel has taught me how much he has had to persevere in his life to get where he is today. At age 14, he moved to a new continent in pursuit of a dream and a better life, not only for him, but for his family as well. He has still not seen his family since the day he left Nigeria. I cannot imagine not seeing my mom for a few weeks, let alone 6 years! But Joel gets up everyday and attacks the day with a fearless mentality no matter what is thrown his way.
The move to IWU was an adjustment for Joel, and as he sat on the bench I often wondered if he was going to throw in the towel. However, I was reminded of the perseverance that has come to define Joel’s life. I knew he would find a way to be prepared when an opportunity came.
That opportunity presented itself in a conference tournament game late in the season. Huntington scored on six straight possessions to open the second half and had built a double digit lead when Joel went in to the game. While he had a few good practices in a row, he had scored 2 points TOTAL since Christmas. But when his number was called, he produced in a big way!
Joel took on the task of guarding a high level point guard, and his passion and energy ignited the crowd almost immediately. We stopped HU on 10 of the first 12 possessions he was in the game, and the energy from the crowd propelled us to a 109-100 win in overtime.
I cannot remember another game in my career where one player affected the outcome because of his energy. I’ll never forget the play when Joel turned to the IWU bench clapping his hands as hard as he could and at the top of his lunges screamed, “Let’s go!” It was at that moment that I knew Joel had finally arrived, and that his perserverance through adversity would set him up to help the team on the court the rest of the way.
"Inside the player's mind"
"Inside the player's mind"
Bob Peters, Senior
The score was tied with 1.9 seconds left in the game when Coach T called a timeout and without hesitation looked at me to take the game winning shot.
Over the course of my career, Saint Francis turned in to a great rivalry. They were a great program, and we had some unbelievable battles with them. Every year, it seemed like there were big moments in our matchups.
This game would be no different than in years past.
I smiled knowing this was the moment that I had dreamed about and practiced in my back yard growing up. I walked on the court knowing how confident the team felt in my ability to hit this shot. When I left the huddle every player on the team told me my shot was going in—before I even stepped on the court to shoot it!
Indiana Wesleyan has built a culture to play fearlessly every time we step on the court. I have grown in my fearless mentality because I know my worth is found in Jesus and not in the game of basketball. When I stepped on the court on that final play, I did not have to fear the outcome of the shot because my identity is found in something greater than the game.
When I let the ball go after Grant Evans made a perfect pass, I knew the shot was good and that the game was over. I will never forget the feeling of the big shot going in that day, and the thrill of being mobbed by the incredible fans in Luckey Gym.
More importantly, I will never forget the lessons that IWU taught me to live my life fearlessly in every situation.
"Inside the coach's mind"
"Inside the coach's mind"
Head Coach Greg Tonagel
My former college coach Scott Drew told me one time in a film session that as the point guard, I needed to understand the value of a 10-point lead on the road with five minutes to go. He assured me that this was the standard for ensuring a victory. I remember him pointing out the fact that regardless of bad call or crazy play, the statistics proved over time. I applied that information on the court that season. Now as a coach, that conversation is always in the back of my mind as the five-minute mark approaches.
With that in mind, you can imagine that I felt pretty good with a 13-point lead, at home, with 4:34 left on the clock. The momentum of the game was on our side—so too were the aforementioned variables.
Before any of us knew it, in a wild series of events, Spring Arbor had taken a 1 point lead with 4 seconds to go. As I called our final timeout, I vividly remember mentally blocking out all the negatives that were competing for my focus. At that moment, I couldn’t allow myself to react in frustration, or play the blame game with a player or referee. Mental toughness is about being present in the moment regardless of circumstance, and what the team needed at that moment was my mental toughness.
The moment was calling for them to be unified and fearless!
I believe that as the head coach, too often, I get disproportionally credited for the team’s success. The truth is, we are a program driven by people, not stats. Plays don’t win games, players do.
Most people will tell you that winning follows talent and gives favor to strategy. I wouldn’t argue against that but I think there is more to the story. Here at IWU, we believe in something greater. We believe that greatness favors the fearless. Playing fearless moves a team beyond what statistics and talent can tell us.
As our players walked out of the huddle, I was confident because they were unified and fearless. When the first shot didn’t go down, I wasn’t that surprised when the player inbounding the ball tipped in the shot at the buzzer. After all, our strategy was not driven by the numbers, rather, it was driven by people—a fearless and unselfish group of men!
What followed was an eruption of celebration. Not too many more exciting things to do in life than celebrate with those you love!
"Dead at half"
"Dead at half"
Lane Mahurin, Senior
Playing a great team is never easy. Playing away from home adds to the challenge. Being down seventeen at halftime against a rival who is highly ranked in the first rematch since the National Championship? Hopeless!
As the team sat quietly in the locker room at Saint Francis, we all struggled to find motivation. We were all racking our brains to try to come up with some incredible halftime speech. I mustered whatever words that could come to mind, but I couldn’t even convince myself to believe them. For some reason, we had come out uninspired in one of the biggest games of the year, and Saint Francis had played at an extremely high level. I knew we had dug a hole that would be almost impossible to get out of.
I don’t remember a whole lot about what the coaches said when they came in, other than that they seemed mild. They were exasperated from our effort, and probably had about as much belief in how we would respond in the second half as the team did. It was maybe the first time in my career where I sat at halftime feeling like the game was already over. As a player, I knew I couldn’t express this feeling, but our body language mixed with our fake energy said it all.
I stayed in the locker room to pray after the rest of the guys left for the court. I thanked God for the chance to play basketball, I prayed that God would be with me, and I prayed that God would somehow be seen through our team on the court. I did not pray for a victory. I have never prayed to beat a team or for a certain outcome. I find that God shines through the hard times. And besides, I wasn’t even sure God would have been capable of a comeback like this.
Somehow, our team had the energy to fight back. In the second half, we played inspired basketball. We came from a dismayed locker room to play with our hearts on our sleeves and love for each other on display. Guys made big plays, and energy abounded. It felt like big games I had remembered at other points in my career.
The locker room in the post game celebration couldn’t have been more different than the one at halftime. It was a celebration that I will never forget. The team was showing a pattern of responding to adversity that would have been impossible without a growing trust and unity in the locker room.
We may have been dead at halftime, but the way we responded showed we had new life!
Micah Davis, Sophomore
While it seems like a cliché that teams are always ready to play in a rivalry game, we came out flat when we went on the road to face crosstown opponent Taylor University. They came out seemingly unconcerned with our high national ranking and started to put a major beat down on us. We went into halftime down 9 points to a team we felt we should have been beating.
With about two minutes left in the half I began to feel overwhelmed with the sense that I needed to say something at halftime. I know it was the Holy Spirit.
To say I was scared would be an understatement. Bob Peters and Lane Mahurin had been awful all game, but both of them were All-Americans for a reason. I was a redshirt freshman who had no clue what to do.
As the halftime buzzer sounded, I decided I wouldn’t say anything unless I told someone I was going to. I walked by Coach Clark and asked him, “Are you going to say something to the guys?” After an initial confused look, he responded by challenging me to do it!
I had no idea what I was going to say, but I knew I had to say something. It was obvious someone had to step up and unify us, but internally I desperately wanted it to be from someone other than me.
When we entered the locker room, it was dead quiet. When one of our players finally started speaking, without thinking I found myself immediately interjecting, reprimanding the entire team with a specific focus on Lane and Bob. Lane in particular did not respond very well, and we to get into an intense shouting match and had to be separated by our teammates.
By the time it was over, I was in tears. For some reason, in that moment, I was overcome with love for the guys. My actions and words may not have seemed to communicate love in the locker room, and none of my teammates were probably thinking it at the time. These were my brothers, and I so badly wanted us to play up to our potential. I desperately wanted to win this game.
To be honest, I wish I could tell you everyone agreed with what I said. The truth is, I walked out of that locker room feeling like we were more disjointed than when we walked in. The All-Americans were mad at me and only the coaching staff had backed me up. I felt like I had made a mistake.
To my surprise, the team responded with a renewed sense of passion. On the first play, Lane made a diving save that sparked our team. The two All-Americans combined for 38 points in the second half and we ended up winning the game.
As we celebrated in the locker room, I realized that regardless of the position we are in or the excuses we make, it’s important to follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings. More than the victory, Lane and I’s relationship was strengthened so much after that game. He even responded in an interview that the moment at halftime was what was needed for us to find a victory. I had gained the trust and respect of my teammates, and I felt solidified in my role as a leader in this program.
While it is not a moment that will show up on a highlight reel, it was a transformative point in my life and in my walk with God.
"Refusing the path of least resistance"
"Refusing the path of least resistance"
Associate Head Coach Jeff Clark
Though our team marched through the season with a winning record and maintained a top 10 national ranking, outsiders were unaware that this had been one of the most mentally grueling seasons our coaching staff had experienced. After our national championship, we had hoped that our program could continue forward momentum in a straight line to the top, but since the beginning of the journey in April, almost half of the team had at one point thought of giving up basketball for one reason or another.
As you have read already, apathy was rampant in our locker room!
A recent study done at the University College of London shows that the amount of effort required to do something influences what we think we see. We are biased toward perceiving anything that is challenging to be less appealing. In other words, taking the path of least resistance seems to be wired in to us.
Through the season, we were finding that the ‘smaller, weaker’ path that we had felt called to would only be traveled if we could refuse the path of least resistance.
Outside of our own control, we had seen God begin to take our team down the smaller, weaker path. As we struggled with apathy in November, the concept of Aggressive Humility caught fire, and guys began to pursue humility by leveraging their gifts for their teammates. We learned that the path to humility is not found by taking the path of least resistance. Humility is often the path of most resistance, because it is just easier and more comfortable to think of ourselves.
In January, a challenge by a player to get smaller by kneeling in prayer for 40 days was accepted by a majority of the team, and we saw guys gain traction spiritually in ways that were unexpected and unexplainable. We heard about married players beginning to pray and study Scripture with their wives, other players begin to make wise choices in relationships, and still more who were beginning to commit themselves to discipline in new ways. We learned that the smaller path through prayer is not found by taking the path of least resistance. There is an aggressive side of prayer. The Bible uses words like contend, wrestle, and labor when it speaks of prayer. In one case, we see Jesus praying so intensely that he is sweating blood. Prayer is often the path of most resistance, because we engage in spiritual warfare.
As the men on the team refused to take the path of least resistance by getting smaller and weaker, our team found a new drive and unity that had not existed before.
With momentum building in our program heading in to the home stretch of conference play, we knew our job as coaches was to continue to challenge our guys to refuse the path of least resistance. This was not just about winning games; it was about influencing the trajectory of the lives of our players.
We knew that in a decade, it would be easier for them to read updates on social media than to read their Bible. It would be easier to watch Netflix with their wives than to pray with them. It would be easier to sit in front of the TV than to spend time with their kids. It would be easier to take a new job in a different company than to fight through relational difficulties in the job they already had.
Christ’s entire life was one of refusing the path of least resistance, ultimately manifested in the greatest example of mental and physical toughness in history—on the cross.
The Bible calls the path of most resistance the ‘narrow road’…few find it. We believe the narrow road is a downward path, which requires us to get smaller and weaker. We call this narrow path ‘IAm3rd.’ In our program, we have found time and again that the downward path leads to bigger and better. It leads to the ‘more’ we desire. It’s the downward path to the top! As Coach T likes to say, “If you want to be 1st, first find a way to be 3rd!”
We had seen God take a locker room filled with apathy and take the men in it through a smaller and weaker path. In the process, apathy was being driven out of our locker room, and we were beginning to see guys set on fire.
We were anxious to see what was next in ‘the journey’ of our season!
Jacob Johnson, Junior
Commitment is not easy. Real commitment can be scary. To be transparent, it is something I have struggled with at times.
After coming extremely close to giving up the game of basketball, I had reluctantly decided to return and play. Coach told me that he was glad that I made the commitment to stay and that he thought I made the right choice. Still, I was not happy and my passion for basketball was negligible. In my mind, I was still scared of that commitment and did not know what would come of it. The first few months of the season were not easy for me as I was apathetic towards the game.
As the New Year came, I had been challenged by a friend to find ‘a word for the year.’ After going through a week long devotion with him and really praying about it, the word ‘commitment’ kept coming to mind.
I dove deeper into what commitment looked like and evaluated my life, praying about how I needed to change personally in order to be a man of commitment.
This change began with my quiet time in the morning with God. I knew that a lot of the men I respected the most made this a daily habit, so I committed to reading my Bible and praying as a consistent way to start my day.
Another area of I determined to fully commit was basketball. While the passion had not come, I became committed to the game and my teammates, and I began to work out extra outside of practice.
As I made it a habit to show my team that I was all in on the process, I saw results almost immediately. I improved in every area, and my passion started to return.
When I took the step to be fully committed, the love of the game and my teammates followed! I began to wake up excited about what I had on my agenda, and my outlook on what was ahead in the season changed. I started to realize that God was teaching me a valuable lesson about commitment that would not only effect the rest of the season, but would impact me for the rest of my life.
Joel Okafor, Sophomore
After transferring from Bradley University, I was expecting to come to IWU and dominate.
I thought since I had been an Indiana All-Star and at the D1 level that things would come easy. This made me not work as hard in practice at times in the beginning of the year. My lack of discipline on defense led to fouls and my lack of focus on offense led to turnovers. I ended up on the bench!
My entire career, I loved big games because I knew I could provide a spark for my team by diving for a loose ball or taking on the challenge of guarding the other team’s best player. Sitting on the bench during those games knowing I would not get in was really challenging.
As the season went along and I was not getting any clock, I began to doubt myself. I started to shy away from doing all of the little things that had led to success in the past. I even began to lose energy on the bench as I became more selfish and started feeling sorry for myself. When I would get a chance to play, I was often not mentally ready, and I would make mistakes that I had never made in my life.
During this time I tried to put the blame on others, but I knew deep down I was mostly disappointed with myself. I knew the coaches had brought me to the team because they had heard I was a competitor who always put his team above himself. I was drawn to IWU because of the 'IAm3rd' philosophy. Even as the coaches and other players were pouring in to me during this time, I was not giving back to the team in the way I was capable.
This entire process really humbled me, and I began to think back to times when I was most hungry. I had grown as a player knowing that nothing would be handed to me, and I began to get this mentality back. I started to put extra time in the gym and weight room, and started to invest in my teammates off the court.
As I worked harder and spent time with my teammates outside of practice, I began to think of myself less. As I took on this ‘IAm3rd’ attitude, playing with more freedom in practice happened naturally. I began to provide energy and started to do small things to help my teammates, regardless of if I was going to play or not.
The playing time did not come back right away as my attitude shifted, but I started to enjoy the game again. I realized it was not about me, and as I put God first and others second, it was much easier to work hard without worrying about playing time. I realized that working hard for the team and investing in my teammates was really fun, and I started to come alive again.
"An Unexpected Meeting"
"An Unexpected Meeting"
Mark DeMichael, Director of Athletics
Every coach knows that each season brings along the unexpected. We try to be proactive and plan ahead for every possible scenario, but inevitably there are situations you can not plan for. Unfortunately, these typically cause stress and concern. However, this past basketball season I was surprised by an unexpected situation with the basketball team that not only blessed me, but gave me a spiritual boost that I wasn’t even aware that I needed.
I received a text from Coach Tonagel at 9:28 PM on a Thursday night in January that read; “We are seeing some spiritual momentum on the team. The coaches are gathering at 11 in our locker room to pray this up! Would love to have you if you can make it.”
Since I was at home that evening, I quickly responded that I would be there. An hour later, I got in my car and drove down to IWU to meet the coaches for prayer. When I arrived at the locker room, I was surprised to find the team room where I had prayed with the coaches before dark and quiet. As I entered the locker room, the lights were dimmed, there was worship music playing but no coaches were present. Instead, I found two players, Senior Aaron Murray and Sophomore Grant Zawadzki.
These two players were standing at the white board and had written down the name of each of their teammates. Next to each name were prayer requests written for each player, with multiple Scripture verses listed next to each request.
Aaron and Grant let me know they hadn’t seen any coaches, but that I was welcome to join them in prayer. What followed were some of the most impactful 45 minutes in my time as an Athletic Director.
I witnessed two men taking each of their teammates one by one and reading scripture over them, praising the Lord for their lives and praying passionately for them. The amazing part of the prayers and readings was that they were not generic, catch-all prayers and verses. Each scripture read and each prayer spoken was for a specific purpose for a specific teammate that they KNEW and LOVED.
I cannot adequately express how deeply moved I was by this experience! Within that 45-minute block of time I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a tangible way. I found myself inspired by Aaron and Grant, optimistic for this generation of leaders, and encouraged for their teammates who were the beneficiaries of the incredible love and commitment that was being given to them (and they didn’t know it!)
Talk about unexpected blessings!! I will be eternally grateful that Coach Tonagel forgot to include the AM next to the 11 o’clock in his prayer invitation, causing me to show up 12 hours early and find myself in an unexpected prayer meeting!
God’s timing is always right!!
Grant Zawadzki, Sophomore
As we approached the New Year, it was obvious the team needed something to kick start us spiritually. We had been in a funk as a team and a lot of guys seemed to be going through the motions in all areas of life.
During the summer, I had felt a desire to start a Bible study, but I had no idea what it would look like. As the season went on, I was personally learning a lot about prayer, and I felt like I needed to share what I was learning with my teammates. We had talked about how we each needed to 'get smaller' if we wanted to grow as a team, and this was the opportunity to start something like I had thought about over the summer. After one of my mentors gave me a 40-day devotional called ‘Draw the Circle’ by Mark Batterson, I thought it would be a perfect way to push us out of the lukewarm state we were in.
I didn't know how the guys would respond, so I was blown away when almost the entire team signed up to go through the prayer challenge. It was obvious the team was hungry for this.
Almost immediately, God began to work in the lives of individuals on our team and we began to go deeper in prayer. While I was not sure what would happen over the next forty days, I was excited to see what God would do next!
Saikou Jallow, Junior
Looking back on the season, the one game I will always remember the most was our loss against UNOH.
Most people will look at that game as the start of a three game losing streak. But to me, that’s when I knew our team would never back down from a challenge. That’s when I knew our team lived would grow to live out the “Fearless” motto that this program is built upon.
It was a game that we played on the road, during winter break. For a college basketball player, those are the hardest games to get up for. It may seem from the outside that you should be engaged the same for every game, but it can be hard to find the same level of motivation when no one is on campus and you have to create all of the energy yourself. On top of that, we were defending National Champions and currently top-5 in the country so we were getting everyone’s best shot.
Throughout the first half, UNOH was outworking and outplaying us. At one point in the 2nd half, we found ourselves down 15. It could have been very easy to just coast the rest of the game and head back to Marion to prepare for our next game…but that wasn’t us. With our backs against the wall, we found a way to come together.
We fought. We clawed. We scratched our way back into the game and even bobbled the lead back and forth near the end.
On the final play of the game, Grant Evans, one of our best shooters had a chance to win the game.
Even though we didn’t come out on top, I knew that after that game, we were building on the foundation of our program and learning what it meant to respond fearlessly when we faced adversity.
We would find ourselves in similar situations later in the year, and reflect back on that game knowing that when we were up against defeat, the only option was to fight back with a fearless mentality.
Alan Evans, Father of junior Grant Evans
The team may have been stuck in a three game losing streak, but I was not worried that they would pull it together. I knew the foundation of this program would be enough to withstand a slump.
Two years before, my son had transferred in from a Division 1 school, and after his experiences I was expecting IWU to be different than the experience he had there. What I realized over two years was, IWU wasn't only different from D1, it is unique from any other program in the country no matter what level.
From the moment Grant signed with IWU in June, our entire family was welcomed into the IWU family by the coaches and the players. By August I was starting to realize our experience was going to be completely different than anything we had been a part of before. Every September the team takes a weekend Father/Son Retreat. All coaches, players, and fathers are present for this. My first experience with our program was in West Virginia on a white river rafting trip. We had a lot of fun on the river, praying together, camping and eating lots of food. The real treat was spending time with Grant and getting a chance to bond with him. This was something we had not done in quite awhile. The weekend was awesome and is still a favorite memory today.
Looking back after getting home, I realized that not only had I bonded with my son but I got to know his teammates, coaches and their fathers on a much more personal level than I would have anywhere else. As the year went on, the coaches kept us all involved with breakfast meetings, open practices, or just a personal text with a funny story about something our son had done. It was obvious they cared about way more than basketball.
That first year ended like every other year with a trip to the NAIA National Tournament in Branson, Mo. Our team had once again earned a high seed and marched through the tourney all the way to the championship game. We were matched against a very good Saint Francis team, who had beaten us three times already that year.
On the morning of the big game all of the fathers and grandfathers were invited to the team walk-through. We were treated to fellowship, prayer, and even got a behind the scenes peek at a film session and the game plan for the game later that evening. I have never felt more part of a program like I did that day. As I looked around the room listening to testimonies from players, coaches, and fathers, it had a calming effect on me for the rest of the day. I remember leaving for the game that night thinking, “We’ve got this.”
As it turned out, my feelings were correct. We won that night, claiming our second national title in three years. I have always felt that all of the things we shared throughout the year started on that weekend in West Virginia, helping us overcome the improbable.
As we hit the three game skid this year, I remember thinking back to paint balling and sitting around the camp fire at this year's retreat. There are a lot of great coaching staffs out there with talented teams, but with all things even, I know IWU will always have an edge on the court because of what happens off the court. Responding to a little adversity would only strengthen the team, because that is what families do.
"Hot or Cold"
"Hot or Cold"
Head Coach Greg Tonagel
I often wonder what is the most difficult aspect of coaching. Is it the grind of late night recruiting trips? Is it the many hours spent away from family on road trips? Or is it the pressure to draw up the perfect play in crunch time that could ultimately decide the game or even the season?!
For me, every season of coaching offers a new understanding of what it truly means to be a coach. You have probably heard it said before that coaches are often cited as having the most significant impact in a person’s life. Sometimes we hear this at the end of a season. Other times we may get a note five years down the road from a former player expressing his gratitude for the investment made into his life that forever changed him. These “coaching paychecks” are priceless and often remind us why we choose to coach.
As I processed the three game losing streak, I began to question my purpose in coaching. Failure has a way of eliciting doubts into our minds that often leave us second guessing ourselves and our players. On the flip side, failure can be used as the quickest way to success.
As I began to reflect upon each player and where he might be in the midst of this challenging time, I was reminded that at the end of the day, I coach people—not basketball. There before me stood the greatest challenge of coaching, a locker room filled with men looking for direction. There wasn’t a new drill or a fancy set play that was going to get us on track. This wasn’t about an offensive strategy or a defensive scheme. This was about the human element and the struggle against settling for average. I began to pray for the answer that was needed to unify the hearts of our team and create in each player a fearless mindset.
For me, one of the most difficult challenges in coaching is calling people away from average and towards greatness. Everybody wants to talk about greatness but very few are willing to commit themselves in the pursuit of it. Why? Simply put, it’s just easier to be average. It’s easier to fit in with the status quo and remain in a state of comfort. If we are not pushed and encouraged by those around us towards greater things, the sad reality is that we will often settle for less than we were created for.
If you want to be different, don’t settle for average!
Embedded in our coaching philosophy has been the notion that God creates everybody for a life of greatness. Christ, through the cross, purchased this greatness for us. However, we have a role to play in that pursuit. Sometimes obstacles stand in our way and we need teammates to put us back on track. Standing in our way of greatness was an acceptance of average. We were average in our commitment towards God, each other, and the game of basketball.
Like all of life’s problems, Jesus addressed the problem of average. He tells us in John 10:10 that he came so that we could have life and “life abundantly.” The abundant life is a life of greatness. There is nothing average about the life he desires for his followers. However, he was also realistic and knew the world has a way of pulling one into average by way of apathy. Both success and adversity can elicit periods of apathy in our lives.
Apathy is a fight against greatness. It stands as a road block for growth. The indifferent person is not hungry for growth, instead, this person often chooses the path of least resistance. In some sense, it’s a selfish endeavor because this person cannot impact the growth of others. Instead he does the opposite; he takes from others.
Because guys were not pouring into each other like they had in the past, we lacked unity. This element was revealing itself on the court in big moments. One of the hallmarks of our program over the past twelve years has been the ability to win close games. I’ve always believed this to be in part to the strong bond of unity that comes when thirteen men pursue the growth of each other. However, in our state of apathy we were becoming average.
You might be asking, what’s so scary about being average? After all, our concern should be with being below average. However, that is not how Jesus saw it in Revelation 3:15. He told the church to pick hot or cold in their affections for him, but to avoid being lukewarm. Why such a stern warning? The one who is neither cold nor hot offers a great insult to Jesus Christ. Such a person affirms the existence of God but does so without any form of power.
We talked openly as a team about our struggles and the ways in which we could spur each other on. We committed to pursuing all areas of our lives with passion regardless of feel or convenience. It was exciting to see a group of men pour into each other towards the pursuit of something greater. Hearts were being unified and minds were becoming fearless. We had great reason for there is nothing average in the call to follow Christ. In response to that great love, may our lives reflect a pursuit of greatness!
"Film Room Tension"
"Film Room Tension"
Kar Reng, Sophomore
Some of my greatest memories from the season always come in the locker room. Those memories include bonding as a team, watching NBA games, preparing our minds for workouts, and praying together.
But there are also some of the most tension filled moments in the locker room, especially when I look back on our post-game film sessions while we were on a three game losing streak. Our team seemed to be falling apart and the coaches were going to push us until we started performing the way we were capable.
After each loss, our team had film sessions where it seemed like the coaches were critiquing our every mistake. I know every person in that room dreaded the plays where they were not playing as fearlessly or unselfishly as they could. An outsider likely could have felt the tension in the room if they walked in.
While the coaches were pushing us to grow on the court, the players learned from the film sessions that we had to grow closer as teammates. We saw that we were not keeping each other accountable on the floor, and we committed to not allowing teammates skip any reps on or off the floor. If we were not willing to push each other out of our comfort zones, we likely would not reach our potential.
There was no limit for who was allowed to push a teammate. For example, we had a player who had not played a moment yelling at an All-American during halftime, and everyone respecting him for it. We had captains telling the younger guys to work harder, and everyone responding. As we began to hold each other accountable, we saw ourselves slowly get back on the right track.
The tension of these moments was actually building trust. As we committed to keep each other accountable to the standard of the program, we grew closer than ever and we began to feel momentum building on the court.
"The Losing Streak"
"The Losing Streak"
Aaron Murray, Senior
In January we found ourselves mired in a losing skid longer than any I had ever been a part of in my five years as a Wildcat. We had lost 3 in a row, when in the past we had entire seasons where we only lost three times!
We seemed to lack an edge as we came back from Hawaii, almost like we were taking wins for granted. This culminated in two of the longest road trips of my career. We lost to UNOH after getting down by double digits. Then, we got beat at MVNU by a team that physically and mentally dominated us.
MVNU is not an easy place to play. The trip is long and the gym is dark. We came out on fire and it seemed like we were going to take out the frustration of the UNOH game and trounce them... for the first eleven minutes.
Then we fell apart. Defense failed and offense stalled. The second half was so bad that I found myself on the bench hoping I wouldn’t go in, because I knew how brutal the post-game film session would be.
It was a long bus ride home.
We waited in the dark silence for over an hour as the coaches broke down the film. When they finally called us to the front of the bus, I was eager to get it over with because these things are no fun. The brutally honest conversations are tough. As players, we know we have to follow them up with action. I wanted it to be Wednesday so we could get out on the court and practice.
After a few physically and mentally grueling days of practice, we took on rival Bethel College at home. I had reached out to some of my teammates off the court to encourage them before the game and I was expecting a good performance. Since we hadn’t lost even two games in a row since 2012-13 season, I knew we would respond.
We lost 88-84, making it a three game losing streak.
I remember walking to the locker room thinking, “Are we even going to make it to the National Tournament? Do we have the commitment we need to turn this thing around?”
Having been part of two National Championship teams, I knew the level of dedication required by every man in the program, and right then we weren’t showing it. I was scared the team was going to continue to struggle with apathy and limp to the finish line, and my final season would not see the same results as the other parts of my career.
Ben Carlson, Junior
It’s hard to complain when you get to take a trip to Hawaii to stay in an incredible resort and play in a basketball tournament...but a 13-mile hike through the rain led some of the guys on the team to be in a less than grateful mood.
It was the last day of our trip, and some of the guys were hoping to spend the day at the beach. It was an easy way to relax and we would have been guaranteed to enjoy the day just as we had on our other times on the beach during the trip. Instead, the coaching staff decided to do one of their favorite things--push us out of our comfort zone in hopes of giving us an experience with the potential to do something we may never get to do again. We decided to hike the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park, which is one of the rare places where you can see active lava.
I immediately thought back to last year’s trip to the Grand Canyon, and how we made memories we will never forget. To be transparent, I think I would have chosen to hang out at the hotel rather than hiking the Grand Canyon, but that is a day I will remember for the rest of my life.
Simply put, the volcano hike was nothing like we expected and the views that we took in did not compare to that of the Grand Canyon. We got to the end of the trail and it was just a big empty crater. No lava, no exploding volcano, no threat of danger unless you were dumb enough to jump off the side of the cliff.
Needless to say, we were disappointed. We went through all that work just to be let down in the end. More than one guy on the team had negative thoughts as we considered what might have been on our final day. It was a quiet two hour ride back to the resort.
It wasn’t until hours later on the flight home that I realized the value and benefits of that hike. I got to spend a whole day hanging and struggling through that hike with my teammates. I will never forget the laughs, frustrations, and bewilderment we shared on that hike. We had too often taken time with each other for granted by being distracted by our phones. On that hike where I was forced out of my comfort zone, I had conversations about marriage, faith, family, and loads more. Teammates transparently shared their frustrations and worries. At the time I was so focused on the end result, I couldn’t see the true value in what happened on the journey to get there.
This has held true in other areas of life, even in the journey of a season. It is easy to become consumed by getting to whatever place we “need to get to” rather than what happens on the way there. We lose sight of the good things that are happening and how much we are growing throughout the journey. Sometimes, we are so frustrated by the results that we miss the things that God has done. While we are frustrated, God is busying shattering our expectations.
While I would have loved to spend a day on the beach, and I wish we would have seen an active volcano, the hike was a great opportunity for me to reflect on our team’s journey before we hit the intensity that would come with conference play.
Canaan Coffey, Freshman
As a freshman, this year was full of new experiences. It was a year of tremendous growth, both on and off the court, with many ups and downs scattered along the way.
A lot of this growth came from times when I was pushed out of my comfort zone and forced to experience something new. Throughout this growth process, I loved being able to experience different “firsts” with this team.
One of these times of growth came on our trip to Hawaii. Every day while we were there, a different player would lead a team devotion. These led to conversations that strengthened the unity of our team.
Coach Tonagel had asked me a few days before the trip if I would give a devotion on the last day of our Hawaii trip, and I jumped at the chance. I had never done something like this before, and I don’t usually like sharing personal things in front of a big group of people. Still, I knew stretching myself in this way would help me grow.
When it was time for me to give my devotion, the team gathered on the serene Hawaiian coastline. While my heart was pounding and my nerves were racing, I began to think about how special that moment was. I was surrounded by Godly men who were listening to me speak about how God was working in my life. We could’ve been sleeping in, but instead we were joining together in fellowship and diving deeper into our faith. I realized that nobody cared if I stumbled over words, they just wanted to hear what God was pressing on my heart. I thought it was one of the coolest things I had ever experienced. Not many college athletes can say that they’ve been a part of a team like that before.
Although basketball is a big part of my life, it doesn’t define who I am. I am grateful to be on a team that values growth in our faith, and on the basketball court, and is willing to walk alongside me as I grow out of my comfort zone. This was just one of the many ‘firsts’ I experienced in my freshman year as a Wildcat, and I’m excited to see where God leads me throughout the rest of my college journey as we continue to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and experience new things.
"No Bible, No Breakfast"
"No Bible, No Breakfast"
Grant Evans, Junior
Every athlete understands that morning workouts are a part of the grind. These are the start of a long day that includes classes, meetings, and sometimes additional workouts. It is a part of the process of growing as a player and as a team.
I would be lying if I said I always looked forward to these workouts, but my teammates and coaches at IWU made them more manageable because of the attitude they approached each day with. Most days, it would start with a 5:15 AM wake up call followed by a playlist created by my roommate Jacob Johnson and I that allowed us to get our minds ready for whatever we were about to encounter.
After making the early morning trek to the workout, Coach T would often ask us what we had for breakfast. I remember my first workout, I was ready to let him know that I had a bagel before one of my teammates started to share. Coach T was not speaking literally, but was wondering how we fed ourselves spiritually from the Bible. A popular saying in our program is 'no Bible, no breakfast.' Before we can feed ourselves physically, we need to nourish ourselves spiritually. Players and coaches would share what they had learned from the Word that morning and we would pray as a team before we went to work.
This set the stage for a high energy workout. No matter how tired you were mentally or physically it is required that you bring energy to better your teammates and coaches. When I had a teammate encouraging me the entire workout it made me want to go that much harder. When you are a Wildcat, you know it is an expectation that you make someone else better no matter how you feel.
One unique thing about the IWU basketball program is that our coaches do every workout with us. When I think about how intense these workouts are it blows my mind. This was another thing that really motivated me during morning workouts. I mean, who wants to lose to one their coaches during a conditioning workout? It was little things like these that made me really appreciate the staff I was playing for, and helped me through some of the most grueling parts of the season.