"Without any Super Bowl trophies, hospital dedications, Kelly Clarkson concerts or drunken pistol fights at strip clubs, the collegiate sports of Indy have been swept quietly under the rug. They may not have the melodrama or criminal record of the Pacers, but Marian, IUPUI and Butler are electric with the buzz of ambitious growth.
Jaguars head basketball coach Ron Hunter is predicting the most successful season in school history, Marian College has a football program for the first time ever, Marian’s cycling team just broke a national record and Butler’s stud All-American is rallying the Bulldogs for another NCAA tournament run. Contrary to popular media perception, Peyton only plays once a week and there is, in fact, life beyond the Colts — so here are local names and programs that are well worth the single-digit prices of admission.
In the heart of downtown, the IUPUI Jaguars have their eyes on the brackets. If they win their Conference, as 15-year head coach Ron Hunter expects, they will find a highly-coveted seed in the NCAA tournament. As a veteran coach of an undersized basketball program, Hunter was a hot commodity in the coaches market over the off- season, but decided to stick with the Jags, favoring his family and the city over the extra cash. “You can’t put a price on the quality of life,” Hunter said of his decision. “I live in the best city of the world.
“We have the best player in the league — and arguably the second best player in the state outside D.J. White,” Hunter said of his scoring-machine, Broad Ripple High School graduate George Hill. He averaged 36 points a game in high school, and Hunter promotes a run-and-gun style of basketball that will feed directly into Hill’s continued dominance over the Mid-Continent Conference.
IUPUI, for perhaps the first time ever, is the favorite to stand alone atop the Mid-Con come March. Hunter said that while most teams would regret the attention, the Jags see it as even more motivation. “We want to play with a bull’s-eye on our chests,” he said, excitedly. “We want that chip on our shoulders, to have something to prove — and that gives us an advantage.”
Marian: Bicycles and TDs
As the Jags look forward to unprecedented success, the Marian College cycling team has already secured its, with its 10th national track title at this year’s USA Cycling Collegiate Track National Championships in San Diego, Calif. The three-day competition ended on Sept. 16 with Marian claiming first place in both Men’s Team Pursuit and the Division I Team Omnium, while senior Bennet van der Genugten turned in a first-place performance in the Men’s Division I Omnium.
“We had to earn it all the way down to the line,” head coach Dean Peterson said. “It wasn’t really even clear what was going on with the points until the last day. We just knew we had to ride our best.”
With eight new riders and a coach in only his second year at the helm, inexperience proved to be the team’s greatest challenge, though the stress-inducing journey to California with a mountain of equipment came in a close second.
“It was a huge trip, so logistically it was very stressful,” Peterson said. “But they handled it just beautifully. I couldn’t be more proud of the way they handled themselves.”
Next up for the team is road nationals, where Peterson hopes to see Marian ranked among the top three in the country within the next two years. That is, if they can recruit more female riders.
“It’s a delicate balance of getting enough riders that are experienced enough to compete at a national level and at the same time creating a team environment in which new riders can come into the sport and feel comfortable,” Peterson said.
Marian football, in its inaugural season, is not picked to win a single game and they are 0-3 to start the season — yet the campus has every reason to be ecstatic for their new program. Head coach Ted Karras said that the school started the program to increase enrollment, vibrancy and exposure to the school — and there are already cars lined up in the grass on Saturdays to watch homegrown talent develop. Karras has groomed success everywhere he’s gone in his young career — all without the cozy grace of scholarship money, until now. “The reason I took the opportunity,” he said, “is to give kids the chance to attend college that may otherwise not have the chance for financial reasons.”
The luxury of an athletic scholarship to Marian has brought diverse academic and athletic talent from all over the country, and Karras urges Indy to come out on the top-half of the weekend to see his freshmen play with heart and fire as they grow into conference contenders. “You’re going to see a lot of kids that grew up here in Indianapolis and a great brand of college football,” he said. “We’ll make it exciting, and it’ll be a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.”
Butler’s new head coach
Meanwhile, a few blocks to the northeast, the Butler men’s basketball team is rallying behind its new head coach Brad Stevens, the ambitious young coach of a program rich in tradition in the beating heart of basketball country. Hinkle Fieldhouse hosted one of the Bulldogs’ best seasons in school history last year, led by honorable mention All-American A.J. Graves.
Graves, a first-team academic All-American, finished second in the NCAA in three-point shooting, fourth in steals and fifth in scoring — and he has a year of eligibility remaining. While whispers for “player of the year” spread amongst the Butler hopeful, Graves could care less about personal rewards. “I’ve never been around a person less concerned for individual accolades as A.J.,” Stevens said. “He’s here to win, and that’s what he does … very well.”
While this is Stevens’ first head-coaching position for a Division I school, he has been on the Butler staff for the past seven years, and the five returning seniors on the roster will complement fresh leadership with seasoned talent. Despite his youth — being the second youngest coach in all of Division I men’s basketball — Stevens doesn’t see any negatives to being a young, internally promoted coach. “I can’t imagine any disadvantages,” he said. “I know what Butler’s all about, I know the students ... you can coach players at the highest level who are ambitious in the classroom, and in the past 11 years we’ve had as much success as anyone in the state. They have a passion for basketball at this school.”
The Bulldogs spent much of the 2006 season in the top 25 polls, with wins over Indiana, Notre Dame, Purdue, Gonzaga and Illinois. They lost a dog-fight to the eventual champion Florida Gators in the Sweet 16, but they will be riding the momentum from last season into an ambitious schedule that features a home game against national runner-up Ohio State in November. They are arguably going to be the most exciting basketball program in the state, and 49th Street will be on fire come March, as the Bulldogs headline a hot roster of Indianapolis collegiate teams playing their hearts out for the city.
With reporting help from Sara J. Smith
Home opener: Nov. 5,
7 p.m., IUPUI Gymnasium
Next home game: Sept. 29,
2 p.m., Pike High School
Home opener: Oct. 30,
7 p.m., Hinkle Fieldhouse