Shooting for glory
By Mike Dauplaise ’84
A defensive mindset paired with solid team play has elevated the St. Norbert men’s basketball program to elite status within the Midwest Conference and the larger world of NCAA Division III.
The Green Knights, in their fourth season under head coach Gary Grzesk, ranked No. 9 nationally late in the season after breaking through the previous year to reach as high as No. 11 in the rankings. The program’s rapid ascension took hold in Grzesk’s second season, when the Knights qualified for their first conference tournament appearance in six years.
The turning point came early in the 2008-09 campaign, when the Knights upset then top-ranked University of Wisconsin-Platteville in the championship game of the Nicolet Bank Holiday Classic at the Schuldes Sports Center. It was the first victory over a No. 1-ranked opponent for any sport in St. Norbert history.
“My second year here, we had some good victories in games we maybe shouldn’t have won,” Grzesk recalls. “Then last year the game that got us over the top was beating Platteville. To have the opportunity of playing the No. 1 team in the country in your building is unique, and especially to be able to come back and play a great second half when we were down by 15 points was special.”
Read Dick Bennett on his years with Grzesk. >>MORE
The team’s efforts continue to pay off in results, illustrated by a dominant run this season and their first conference championship in eight years. At time of press, the Green Knight men were readying to host the Midwest Conference Tournament, and the women’s team was close to clinching its conference championship, too. St. Norbert, ranked ninth in scoring defense at the time in all of Division III, held high-scoring Carroll 21 points below its season average. Grzesk unabashedly admits his coaching philosophies and defensive brand of basketball are a direct link to his time under legendary coach Dick Bennett at Division I UW-Green Bay.
Grzesk was a consummate team player for the Phoenix, graduating in 1996 with more assists (496) than points (450), and earning the team’s Defensive Player of the Year Award all four of his seasons with the team.
“I’d be dumb not to follow the teachings of Coach Bennett,” Grzesk says. “It’s been proven that his system not only wins games, it wins championships.”
Bennett, who went on to lead the University of Wisconsin to a Final Four appearance after leaving Green Bay, says Grzesk’s greatest coaching attribute is his demeanor.
“Intrinsically, he’s one of the most poised individuals I’ve ever coached,” Bennett states. “He’s very calm on the outside, but also very calm on the inside. He’s got a great presence of mind that is such an asset in any business, but especially in the business of coaching. He just doesn’t rattle. I knew whatever he did that he was going be successful.”
For his part, Grzesk downplays his past and concentrates on preaching the Bennett philosophies to his own players. His ability to recruit players that are willing to play hard and unselfishly has been the key to the Knights’ success.
“You have to identify kids who are going to work out well academically to begin with,” he explains. “You judge their skill level and passion for the game. They’re coming to St. Norbert for academics first and basketball to complement that. They have to have their priorities straight.
“Recruiting is such an inexact science. As much as you try to research kids, there are things you don’t know until they get to campus and you start working with them. In any good program, you have to have kids who are willing to be unselfish and do what the coaches ask. After you get that, then you have to get them to play smart and execute.”
Look here for web-only content that expands on topics presented in the current St. Norbert College Magazine (PDF).
Too 'Old School’ for our own good?
President Tom Kunkel challenges colleges and universities to embrace new ways of delivering higher education.
A new face in the cafe
Steve Pyne (Dining Services), who has Down syndrome, was profiled in this recent article in the student newspaper, the St. Norbert Times.
St. Norbert College Magazine dropped in on a rehearsal for this three-act operetta production, to be staged on campus.
More than a photo
A gallery of images from a trip that connected a child in Kenya with his sponsors in the United States.
A father’s love
Jeff Kratz ’92 offers a unique perspective on a father’s love.
Words from life
The poetry of Ken Zahorski (English, Emeritus) deals with fathers and sons, phases of life and familiar figures remembered across the years.
Gratzia Villarroel (Political Science) speaks with Dean Michael Marsden on international issues and educational opportunities.
Man of property
Joe Jones ’12 sits down with Mike Dauplaise ’84 to discuss an education in entrepreneurism and the launch of Jones’ third business. He is 21 years old.
Dick Bennett on Gary Grzesk
The basketball legend remembers his years presiding over the storied
defensive career of Grzesk, current coach to the Green Knight men.
Your ideas for future magazine stories are most welcome. Write to the editor with any suggestions or comments.
Request a subscription to bring
St. Norbert College Magazine to your inbox three times a year.