By CHRIS STONER
NEW ALBANY —
It’s said that a habit can be formed in just 30 days. So what if you keep doing the same thing for six straight years?
Well, if it’s success in basketball and you’re in Indiana — it’s called a winning tradtion.
The IU Southeast men’s basketball program won its sixth straight Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament championship Tuesday night at the Southeast Activities Center with a 74-62 victory over Asbury.
The Grenadiers are all about winning and now they have their sights set on a national title.
IU Southeast (27-4) is the 11th seed in the 32-team NAIA II National Tournament, which is set to begin March 6 in Point Lookout, Mo.
The Grenadiers will face off against Valley City State (N.D.) in the first round. VCSU (21-8) is making their first-ever appearance in the national tournament.
“This is great,” sophomore guard Jake Simpson said. “In high school, you can only win state. We’re going after a national championship.”
Simpson is one of just three returnees from last year’s team — and while he enjoyed team success at the high school level — his second straight KIAC title is something special.
“We won Districts about every year I was [at Pleasure Ridge Park high school in Louisvlle], but we never got over the top and won state,” Simpson said. “We never won anything near this big at high school. This feels really good to win another conference title and go play at the national tournament again.”
Sixth-year head coach Wiley Brown may have done his best coaching job ever this season. Despite a roster full of mostly new faces, Brown was able to quickly mold his team into a winner that finished the season ranked 10th nationally.
“Without a doubt, I believe that this has been his best coaching job yet,” IUS Athletics Director Joe Glover said. “His in-game coaching adjustments this year have been special to watch. Our team was down at halftime in both the quarterfinal and championship games of this year’s conference tournament and both times Coach Brown was able make necessary adjustments that allowed our team to prevail. Coach is a tremendous teacher and motivator.”
Brown knows what winning is all about. He was a starting forward on the University of Louisville’s 1980 National Championship team and served in multiple capacities in the U of L athletic department for 15 years before arriving at IUS.
“He’s is a smart basketball coach and he knows what it takes to be successful,” Glover said of Brown. “He has had some great coaching mentors in Denny Crum and Rick Pitino.”
All of the Grenadiers enjoyed and fully appreciated their KIAC Championship Tuesday night. Simpson led his team with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Jeffersonville grad Kegan Clark contributed in numerous ways. Clark added seven points, three rebounds, three assists, three steals and guarded taller opponents in the post all night.
“Any championship is great, but yeah, this better than last year,” Clark said. “No. 2 is always better.”
New Albany grad Parker Henes is the other returnee from last season. Henes suffered a leg injury early in the season and only played three games this year.
Nonetheless, this year’s title is still very special to the sophomore.
“This year, even though I only played three games before I got hurt, what I was able to contribute meant a lot,” Henes said. “I’ve just done all I could to contribute to the team. We won sectional [at New Albany] the year I played, my senior year. That was special, but I feel like I’m closer to this team and this one just tops the cake.”
A pair of former Floyd Central Highlanders — Chet Werncke and Jordan Thompson — shared Henes’ sentiment.
“Nothing compares to this,” Werncke said. “Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever won a championship in little league or anything that I can remember. This is so special to win this conference tournament. I look forward to the national championship tournament. Coach brings us together so well. I love all my teammates and I know all my teammates love me. We all hang out together and just really get along and enjoy being together.”
Thompson was a key member of a Floyd Central team that had numerous close losses last season, so being apart of a 27-win team means a lot to the freshman.
“Last year [Floyd] didn’t really play to our potential, but this year, we really came together and didn’t lose much,” Thompson said. “We play a really hard schedule in the beginning to get us prepared for right now, so we’re pretty much prepared for anything. This is the best championship I’ve ever been apart of, by far.”
Jeffersonville’s Terence Billups especially savored the victory. Billups did not play high school basketball but was a key cog in the Grenadiers sixth striaght KIAC title.
“It’s a really good feeling to win a championship on this level,” said Billups, who scored 10 points in the championship game. “I’ve been apart of league championships in the leagues I played in but nothing like this. Winning at the collegiate level is a really good feeling.”