Coach Tapp’s attitude and ethic helps to turn around program
By JOSEPH GRAF
Throughout the history of varsity basketball at IU South Bend, the men’s teams had always seemed to take a backseat to the women’s teams. They never seemed to enjoy the same type of success or winning seasons that the women did, and often didn’t receive as much attention.
When Chap Tapp arrived to coach at IUSB three years ago, that began to change. The men’s team became more focused and built itself around a core of determination and leadership.
Now with the 2012-13 season in the books, the Titan men have registered their first 20 win season, the best in school history.
“Before the season, we talked about setting the goals for the team and these guys really set the goal of breaking the school record for wins in a season, having the first 20 win season and getting to the national tournament,” said Tapp. “We accomplished the first two, and came up a game short of making to the national tournament.”
With an overall record of 20-12, a conference record of 17-8, an all-time high men’s team GPA of 2.95 and finishing third in what is considered the strongest conference in National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Division II basketball, it would be hard to make a case against this being the best IUSB Titan men’s team ever.
But for majority of the season, the success didn’t come from offensive firepower and huge blowouts. This team played gritty and smart. They didn’t focus on running up the score. Instead, they focused on making sure the other teams didn’t.
“Most of our success was tied into our defense, and we have some pretty tough guys, so I think they really bought into playing defensively,” said Tapp.
Going by the numbers, “pretty tough guys” may actually be an understatement.
“We also set a goal for being the best defensive team in the conference, and we were. We led the conference in field goal percentage defense, three point percentage defense and second in rebounding,” said Tapp. “We had some moments when we weren’t that great offensively, and that’s certainly going to be a key thing next year. But overall, other than making it to the national tournament, we reached our goals and probably overachieved our expectations.”
These expectations that Tapp refers to now probably didn’t exist years ago. Throughout Titan history, the men’s teams had never really been expected to do much of anything, except to compete the best they could. The fact that Tapp and the team have come to envision actual records and statistics as attainable goals speaks highly of how quickly he has been able to turn the program around in such a short amount of time.
Yet Tapp is the first to give credit to his teams’ successes to the three senior players who have been with the team from the start of his time at IUSB – Kyle Heatherly, Steven Heatherly, and Alanzo Bass. This being their last year with the team, the Titans will have to adjust to compete without them.
“When I first got here [three years ago], things were really ugly,” said Tapp. “Kyle Heatherly was the only person from the previous staff that made it through to my first year. I think that previous team had only won eight games the year before. Then with Steven and Kyle Heatherly and Alanzo Bass, we found a core of leadership. And then we won 11, and then 16, and now 20. Those guys have made such an investment in what we do. The skillset needs replacing, but I don’t think that will be as hard as replacing the leadership and maturity of that group.”
Reflecting on what they’ve accomplished as a team this year, the Titans have much to be proud of, but there’s even more to their success than their record. They haven’t just put up the most wins in program history, but they’ve done it while playing against some of the best teams in the entire country.
“When we first got here three years ago, we were the bottom tier of the conference,” said Tapp. “Now we finished third in the league behind Cardinal Stritch, who won the national championship, and Saint Xavier, who made it to the sweet 16. When we first got here, it was a big deal if we ever beat one of those really good teams, and now it’s not really a surprise anymore.”
If you saw how much effort the men’s coaching staff has put into rebuilding a failing program, you probably wouldn’t be surprised either. IUSB Athletic Director Gary Demski has watched firsthand as the men’s team has grown and rose their way from the bottom of the conference to a force to be feared.
“Our coaches work so hard, and they work around the clock. They don’t take days off, they just work to better the program. I mean, Coach Tapp, we’re in just his third year at the school and he’s already turned in our best season in history,” said Demski.
As the program takes in its newfound success, it’s always nostalgic to remember the moment where things started their ascent to greatness. For the men’s program, this moment came when Demski made the choice to bring in the new coaching staff that aimed to establish a discipline and a confidence that had been missing for many years.
According to Demski, it didn’t take long to recognize the fire in Tapp when he first showed interest in IUSB.
“When we first held interviews for this [head coaching] position, we had a lot of applicants. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a head coach of a college attached with the Indiana University name? When reading through the applications, his immediately stuck out to me. And even within the first two or three minutes talking to him, I said to myself, ‘This guy’s going to be really tough to beat. He’s our guy.’”
In just three years, it’s quite evident that Demski picked the right man for the job.
All in all, it’s been quite a roller coaster for the Titans over the last few years, and from the coaching staff to the players, the new era has established a culture within the team that every member can benefit from. Everyone knows what’s expected of them, and now, what’s expected of the team. As long as the motivation remains, even while losing a few key players, the Titans should be able to remain competitive as long as they are willing to fulfill their commitment to the team.
“As the saying goes,” said Demski, “hard work pays off, and this year it did.”