Monday, March 11, 2002

Goliaths don't scare Valparaiso




By Mark Curnutte mcurnutte@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Valparaiso, which made the Sweet 16 of the 1998 NCAA Tournament, will not be intimidated by Kentucky and its basketball history.

        Coach Homer Drew, who recorded the 500th win of his 26-year career in February, made sure the Crusaders had plenty of big-time experience before beginning their Mid-Continent Conference schedule.

ABOUT VALPARAISO
  • About the school: Location — Valparaiso, Ind. Nickname — Crusaders. Colors — brown and gold.
  • Record: 25-7 (12-2 Mid-Continent Conference)
  • Bid: Automatic, won MCC tournament
  • Coach: Homer Drew (235-177 at Valpo, 14 years; 504-306 overall, 26 years)
  • Key Players: Lubos Barton, a senior forward from Ceska Lipa, Czech Republic, earned conference player of the year honors after finishing among the top 10 in eight of 12 statistical categories. He was third in scoring (15.6 ppg.).
  • Notable: The roster has players from Finland, Angola, Latvia, Colombia and Puerto Rico.
        Valpo played back-to-back road games against Arizona and Kansas. The Crusaders lost by four at Arizona after leading by one point with a minute remaining. Against the Jayhawks, Valpo was tied with five minutes left before losing by eight.

        “We wanted to challenge them against the very best in the country,” Drew said Sunday night, two hours after his team was paired against UK in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament East Region on Thursday in St. Louis. “This is our sixth time in the NCAAs and the third time for this senior class.

        “We know what the attention and enthusiasm are about.”

        The Crusaders earned a reputation as a dangerous NCAA underdog in 1998 when they pulled consecutive upsets to make the Sweet 16. This team, which set a school record with 25 victories, could be Drew's best.

        “Every team is different in terms of chemistry,” he said. “But the depth this year is better. Nine people play with double-digit minutes.”

        Four players average double-digit points. Lubos Barton, a 6-foot-8 forward and Mid-Conference player of the year and a Czech Repub lic native, averages 15.1 points a game. Center Raitis Grafs, who is 6-11, averages 12.4. Guards Milo Stovall and Stalin Ortiz average 12.0 and 11.2, respectively.

        “Our best thing is, we have depth,” Barton said. “We have a lot of weapons. We can score inside or outside.”

        Drew was conference coach of the year for the fourth time in leading his team to its seventh regular-season conference title in the past eight years.

        In the conference tourney title game, an 88-55 win over IUPUI, Ortiz led a balanced attack with 20 points.
        “It was our mission from Day 1 to get back to the championship game and advance to the NCAA Tournament,” Drew said. “We did that by breaking the school record for wins at the same time. That's a nice way to do it.”

       



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