Former IPFW athletic director Mark Pope knew exactly how to bring instant recognition to his men’s basketball program. He hired Dane Fife, and overnight every sports fan in the state knew at least something about the Mastodons.
Former IPFW athletic director Tommy Bell knew exactly what his successful basketball program needed in wake of Fife resigning to take an assistant position with Michigan State. He hired Tony Jasick, and overnight, very few knew much of the Mastodon program. But fast-forward to today and more and more people are becoming cognizant of the team – and of Jasick. In hindsight, it certainly appears that both Pope and Bell made very shrewd personnel decisions.
“Tony, in his own way,” Fife explained, “he’s added to what was already there. He’s done a really good job of enhancing what we basically started together. He’s really done a good job of taking it to the next step, there’s no question about it.”
IPFW (17-6, 5-1 Summit League) will host Western Illinois (9-12, 3-3) in Summit League action tonight at the Gates Sports Center at 7 p.m. A Mastodon victory will tie the program’s mark for most wins in a season during its 13-year NCAA Division I existence (a mark set under Fife’s guidance), and Jasick’s squad still has at least nine games remaining.
“It was better this way,” Mastodon senior forward Michael Kibiloski said of Bell’s promoting Jasick three seasons ago. “If they would have brought in a whole new (coaching) staff, it would’ve taken awhile for us to get used to them and for them to get used to us. We already knew each other, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Indiana basketball fans are fully aware that there is more than one way to succeed in coaching basketball. The two most renowned Hoosiers in the sport, at least when it comes to coaching, are Bob Knight and John Wooden. Can two people possibly be more different than those two? On or off of the court?
Continue in that regard and compare the fiery Gene Keady with the studious Brad Stevens; or the flamboyant Digger Phelps with the pastoral Paul Patterson. There isn’t one specific way to lead a men’s basketball program to success and Fife and Jasick encapsulate that, as well.
“We’re a little bit calmer and more laid back,” Kibiloski explained of the team today. “Fife is a coach that will get right up in your face in practice. If you do something wrong in practice now, Jasick is going to approach you in a calmer manner and explain what you did wrong. That is the biggest difference.”
Fife doesn’t dispute Kibiloski’s assessment; he believes that turning up the heat on a player is a chapter in the “Coaching 101” book. But he doesn’t agree that Jasick is the consummate mild-mannered professor.
“I’ve seen Tony get emotional,” Fife said. “He has the ability to rise up and climb into some guys. But his approach is certainly different when repeated mistakes are made.”
Jasick recently climbed to fourth place on the Mastodon coaching success ladder (Fife is second in all-time wins) and is now two games above .500 (44-42) in his two-plus seasons. When it comes to winning percentage, Jasick (50.6 percent) trails only all-time leader Andy Piazza (56.8 percent).
He readily acknowledges the differences between himself and his predecessor, but he is more apt to point out the similarities, which are founded on “accountability” being taken by the student-athletes.
“Dane and I have different personalities,” Jasick said. “But I also think we kind of grew up together (in coaching), we have a very similar philosophy on how the game is supposed to be played.”
Traits such as effort, pride, playing together and with a fierce competitiveness have permeated the program since Fife was hired nine years ago and they continue today.
“We share a similar philosophy in having high expectations for our student-athletes,” Jasick said. “I will agree that our external personalities, which have been noted that they are different, the way that we go out about our business and what we believe from a basketball standpoint, were kind of developed together.”
Those “expectations” aren’t limited to rebounding and transition defense. This season, Jasick’s team has been led in scoring by eight different players, but more impressive than that, in the latest Academic Progress Ratings (APR) released by the NCAA, the Mastodons’ scored a perfect 1,000 for just the second time in program history.
With each victory, Jasick is being sought after by the media (nationally, as well as regionally) with more fervor. The guy that Bell believed in - and only those close to the program even knew of - as Jasick spoke at his introductory news conference, is becoming more recognizable throughout the college basketball world, as is his team.
“That’s great,” Jasick said of building an awareness of IPFW. “I don’t see how it could be a negative for not just our program, our players, our university, and truthfully, for this town as a whole. As much publicity and positive recognition we can get for everybody involved, it helps.”