TERRE HAUTE, Ind. –– On a day of some turbulence in college basketball, it seemed a good time to go see some...well, college basketball.
They play the sport here, too, at a place called Rose-Hulman. The men’s team hosted the Heartland Conference semifinals Friday afternoon as the No. 1 seed. Beat Anderson 75-72. So did the women at night. Beat Hanover 76-73. And here’s the thing:
Every player for Rose-Hulman’s two teams who were headed for the league championship games Saturday — every last one of them — is an engineering major. A long way from the bright lights and complexities of Division I.
“Two different universes,” men’s coach Rusty Loyd said. “Not even close.”
He had an example.
“Owen Handy, the coach at Anderson, and I were talking before the game and Owen was chewing a piece of gum. I said Owen, `You have an extra piece of gum?’ Before the game, 12 minutes on the clock and he hands me a piece of gum. I said, `Do you think Mike Krzyzewski asks Roy Williams for a piece of gum?’”
This was finals week at Rose-Hulman, so Loyd had his full team for two practices the past four days. Not the ideal way to prepare to host a conference tournament. “Nature of the beast,” he shrugged.
MBB: The stats tell the story of a hard fought 75-72 Rose-Hulman win over Anderson. The Fightin' Engineers will play in the @HCACDIII Championship Game for the 5th time in 7 years on Saturday at 4 pm. #GoRose pic.twitter.com/OkjjmOiEde— Rose-Hulman Sports (@rhitsports) February 23, 2018
So here stood freshman Craig McGee — who leads the team in scoring, rebounding and assists — saying he’d like to stay and watch the other semifinal, but he had a project to finish. The subject?
“I’m programming a robot to play `Simon Says.’ Very, very, very nerdy.”
McGee didn’t look all that nerdy scoring 20 points with 10 assists.
Next to him was sophomore John Czarnecki. He was describing the life of mixing academics and basketball.
“You get in the locker room after a long day of class, sometimes it’s a little quiet. Sometimes energy is hard to come by because you’re down from your day and your like, `I’ve got four hours of homework that night.’ It bogs you down a little bit, but it’s almost a release. It feels good to come in and not think about other things.”
He’s a mechanical engineering major with plans to design chassis’ for the auto industry. He also scored 17 points Friday.
“I can’t coach here like I would at some other schools,” Loyd said, `because of the cerebral nature of our players. You have to treat them a little bit differently. You have to be willing to explain why sometimes, when as a coach we don’t like to explain why. But I understand there’s more of a buy-in when I explain why. These guys, as engineers, they want to know how everything works and the foundation of things.”
Same for the women, who came here for the degree and play the game for joy. They’ve won 21 games in a row, by the way.
The leading scorer, Ally Bromenschenkel, is a mechanical engineering major with a 3.84 GPA. Starting next to her at forward is Kayla Gerken, a biomedical engineering major with a perfect 4.0 GPA. The junior who got a double-double Friday night with 12 points and 10 rebounds is Chiarra Franklin, a chemical engineering major with plans to go into the oil industry.
Think of all that academic tonnage when you consider this: They’ve won 37 consecutive home games, and are ranked No. 20 in the most recent D3Hoops top-25, the highest in school history.
“I can truly say I’ve got student-athletes,” said Jon Prevo, who has been head coach for 12 seasons and at the school for 24. “I think it helps balance their lives out. I challenge them a lot down here, and they get challenged academically. I know how hard it is. That’s why I respect my players. That’s what’s kept me here. Putting those two together, we’ve had great success with the basketball program but when they graduate and leave here, they’re going to accomplish a lot more with their careers and their lives and their families they ever did for me from a basketball standpoint.”
Yeah, but what happens when they have a question about one of their classes?
“If they walk in my office and pull out their physics book and say, `Coach, I’m struggling with problem 3, can you help me?’ I tell them, `Put it back in your book bag, who else have you asked?’ But at times I amaze my players. I’ll say `That’s 24 years of engineering. That’s how long I’ve been here. I’ve picked up some things.’”
WBB: The stats tell the story - as Rose-Hulman won a tight 76-73 battle in the HCAC Semifinal Game over Hanover. The Fightin' Engineers will face the winner of tonight's second game for the championship and an automatic NCAA bid on Saturday at 7 p.m. pic.twitter.com/EV0lcrybQ7— Rose-Hulman Sports (@rhitsports) February 24, 2018
Seven states are represented on the Rose-Hulman women’s roster. It’s not the largest pool Prevo is aiming for.
“Getting recruits definitely is more difficult than other schools,” said Bromenschenkel, who came from Illinois with her twin sister Abby. “Because, first, you have to find people who can get in and want to do engineering and are also good at basketball. That’s why we’re recruiting from all over the country.”
Franklin arrived from Missouri.
“It’s interesting to see all the same mindsets. We all have the same kind of working brain. I think that helps our chemistry, because I can see where they’re coming from and they can see where I’m coming from. So while it is difficult to recruit those type of people, I think it also brings an interesting team dynamic to it. Coming from AAU to here, that was a little bit of a change. I thought `Wow, these people really get what I’m talking about it.’”
So it might seem unusual at first, looking around the locker room of a nationally recognized women’s basketball program and seeing nothing but mechanical and biomedical and chemical majors. Not to them.
“It’s normal now,” Bromenschenkel said. “Especially at a school full of engineers.”
In something of a troubled year for college basketball, the men and women of Rose-Hulman might help us remember what the game is here for.