I’ll always remember being on the other side of ‘story time’--as a coach.
Being just a year removed from playing at IWU, I was invariably asked throughout the year what it was like to now be a part of the coaching staff. I could discuss at length how impressed I was by everyone’s work ethic and basketball IQ, but what stands out the most to me was their diligence in prayer. It was humbling to be surrounded by men who consistently set aside time to meet with the Father.
For four years, I showed up for film sessions, meetings, practices and games, with a limited knowledge as to just how much preparation and prayer went into everything. Needless to say, I was surprised the first time we prayed over the day’s practice plan and what exactly our guys needed to work on! It amazed me to see them pause before the Lord as they offered up even the smaller things like a practice plan. I’ll never forget Coach Tonagel saying, “We never want to get ahead of God”.
Every year, when we first get to College of the Ozarks, the coaches go around and share memorable stories made over the years at the National Tournament. As a player, I always looked forward to this time to hear about the legacies that had been left in our program, but this season I heard the stories differently after realizing how much the coaches had prayed for these legacies over the course of the season.
As Coach Clark got up to tell a story about our national championship from two years before, the memories flooded back, and the story took on new meaning. I often found it difficult to “be still” before God in the midst of something like the National Tournament. I think a former teammate of mine, Jordan Weidner, would echo the same sentiment. J-Weid, who is probably the most competitive person I know, carried a massive burden to lead IWU to its first ever Final Four appearance his senior year. It was visible in the way he played early on and in the way he carried himself. However, the night before the Elite Eight game, which had to that point been an insurmountable barrier, God called him to “be still”.
In the middle of the night, Jordan was lead to Psalm 18— a Psalm brimming with verses such as:
2 ”The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer”
3 “I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I have ben saved from my enemies”
6 “In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice”
31 “Because who is God? Only the LORD! Who is a rock? Only our God!”
Amidst the pressures Jordan was facing and the burdens he was carrying, God called him to be still, and sit in awe of God’s power and love. As his focus turned off his own pressure to lead the team and on to God first and his teammates second, J-Weid went on to have his best three games in the tournament and helped to lead IWU to a National Championship.
Not only did I enjoy re-living that experience, I also saw how that story impacted our current team. This is a program where the legacy of past players is passed down to the current players, but none of us could have known how that story would play a role on the story that was about to be written, when Josh Mawhorr would turn to that same passage at halftime of the National Championship game. The rest of the story is history, and I am sure it will be told by the coaches at ‘story time’ in the years ahead.
-Coach DJ Bettinger