It’s been Gabe Hilt’s dream to play basketball in the NCAA Tournament for a Division l school since he first picked up a basketball.

The Columbus North graduate reached the Division I level at St. Francis Brooklyn after graduating from New Mexico Military Institute junior college. However, he never reached the tournament, and injuries started to get the best of him.

A knee surgery, followed by surgery on his hand, caused Hilt to start re-evaluating his basketball career. He looked to transfer, and the only programs offering to recruit him were schools in which he had little or no interest.

Hilt always knew that he wanted to have a long career in basketball, but he came to the realization that his playing days were numbered, and he no longer looked to be a college athlete.

Now, Hilt is looking to extend his career in either player development or coaching at the collegiate level and thought attending Indiana University would be the best fit for him to grow in those areas. The junior is majoring in psychology with a minor in coaching.

“When you’ve played at a high level and made it your whole life, really coming to terms with the fact that it’s over is probably one of the hardest things I ever had to come to terms with,” Hilt said.

Hilt joined the IU men’s basketball program as a manager, which allowed him to continue his playing days outside of the NCAA-sanctioned games. The Manager Games (MGR) allows for team managers to play against other team managers the night before the actual game between the two schools.

IU’s manager team’s 11-5 record ties for the most manager team wins in the country. The Hoosiers have advanced to the MGR Elite Eight that will be played Friday in San Antonio before the NCAA Final Four games kick off. The Elite Eight games will be played Friday morning, and the championship games will be played in the evening.

“I guess you could consider this the next-best thing,” Hilt said in reference to never playing in the NCAA tournament. “Just having the opportunity to be a part of the home of basketball and the crazy phenomenon of March Madness, it would be a special moment and something I definitely would be thankful for.”

Advancing the the Elite Eight is only half the battle. Actually making it to San Antonio has presented its financial challenges that just might be too much to overcome. The managers have to fund their own trip. A GoFundMe account they created got them close to their goal, but not close enough to make the trip.

As of right now, the team does not have enough funds to make it there, but money from a last-second donor could be enough to get them over the hump. They would need to have the funds to purchase their plane tickets by today, and Hilt said there is a lead on a donor that is possibly willing to donate the rest of what is needed. Whether or not they received the donation has yet to be confirmed.

Staying conscious of time and money is the reason why the first three rounds of the tournament are won by a voting system set up through the MGR twitter account. Teams aren’t able to travel like the NCAA sanctioned competitions, so teams have to get their student body and others to give them a higher percentage of the votes than the other team. IU beat Ohio 65 percent to 35 percent to make it to the Elite Eight.

Hilt is hoping they can get this last-second donation to make it to San Antonio but said he is confident that they can make it back to the Elite Eight next year if it’s not in the cards for them this season.

IU never competed in the manager games during the Tom Crean Era, but Hilt said new head coach in Archie Miller encourages them to enjoy all aspects of the Indiana basketball experience as long as it doesn’t interfere with their duties for the actual men’s team. They always reached out to managers of the other team that the Hoosiers were playing during the regular season to see if they wanted to play a game, and Miller was OK with that.

“It’s not quite as serious as playing for a Big Ten championship or something like that, but it’s still a lot of fun,” Hilt said. “There are some talented guys I get to play against. I’ve definitely enjoyed my time playing with the IU manager team.”

Gabe Hilt

Name: Gabe Hilt

High school: Columbus North

College: Indiana University

Year: Junior

Position for IU Managers: Point guard

Author photo
Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.