When Tony Jasick first coached men’s basketball at IPFW, he worked with a group of players that had never experienced winning a game on the road, inadequate equipment, a sparse budget, as well as a having a near 7-footer that only had one working arm.
So to think that he now oversees a program that has climbed into the top 25 of the latest CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major poll, might be mind-blowing to the third-year coach. But not really.
“To be honest with you,” Jasick explained, “I hadn’t thought about (the magnitude) of this. But, what I’ll say, when I look at all of the schools that are involved in the poll, with how young our program is, big picture, it says a lot about the job that our players have done.”
The poll consists of 226 teams within 23 conferences, including the Colonial, Horizon, Mid-American, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, Sun Belt, West Coast, Western Athletic, as well as the Summit League. IPFW (9-4) was rated 25th in this week’s poll, which was a first for this program after 12 years of competing at the NCAA Division I level. Wichita State sits atop the latest rankings.
The first group of Mastodon student-athletes that Jasick worked with had lost 34 consecutive road games, so when IPFW prevailed 65-64 at Southeast Missouri State in former coach Dane Fife’s second game, the players didn’t quite know how to react.
“There were some tears in that locker room afterward,” Jasick recalled.
Fast-forward to today and Jasick’s kids have beaten Bradley 65-61 in Peoria, as well as came within three points of knocking off both Dayton and Illinois in their arenas.
“We’re going to have to really emphasize tonight in practice is that the most important thing that we’ve got going, from a basketball standpoint, is Eastern Illinois (on Saturday),” Jasick said. “All of this (poll) stuff is great. All of the exposure that our players are going to get from this poll is great. But that doesn’t help you win on Saturday.”
The Mastodons have lost three games (Dayton, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and Illinois) by a combined four points, and blew a 16-point second half lead at Miami (Ohio) for their fourth defeat. So in essence, it isn’t a stretch to envision how close this team is to being unbeaten.
At Bradley last week, IPFW didn’t even play that well (its leading scorer, Luis Jacobo, made just one shot), yet still won in one of the more difficult places to compete in the Missouri Valley. But Jasick isn’t resting on any laurels at this juncture.
“Our whole approach is that we are trying to get better,” Jasick said, “and we can get better. We have a lot of room for improvement.
“I promise you, our whole focus is going to be on what we can do today to help our team win on Saturday.”
IPFW has already beaten Eastern Illinois (71-65) in Charleston last month. The two teams battle again Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Gates Sports Center.