After spending some time playing basketball in open gyms and men’s leagues with fellow Ivy Tech Community College students, Josh Wilson had a bright idea: Why not start a team to represent the school?
Ivy Tech already had basketball teams at its campuses in Indianapolis, Lafayette and Richmond. This year, it added the Columbus/Franklin Eagles.
Wilson, 25, who spent most of his high school days at Columbus East before graduating from Southwestern (Shelby), hadn’t played organized basketball since his middle school years at Columbus Christian. His first item of business was finding a coach.
Enter Bruce Grimes. The manager of Mitch Dental Laboratory and eighth-grade boys coach at St. Peter’s Lutheran School the past 18 years took on a new challenge.
“Josh is the man that put most of it together,” Grimes said. “He kind of got things going. They played through the summer some, and they started talking about wanting to get in a little bit more organized thing, and he asked me if I’d be interested in coaching. The first time, I said ‘Nah, I don’t know,’ and then I kind of talked to him, and he said he wanted it to be like a school team and not just a men’s league, so I told him I thought I’d be interested in taking a shot to see what happens.”
The Eagles went 4-4 this season while playing mainly against teams from other Ivy Tech campuses. They finished third in the Ivy Tech Final Four, which featured the four Indiana Ivy Tech teams.
“I think our particular team was probably a couple steps ahead of high school,” Grimes said. “I would say you’re really close to an NAIA-type of competition. Some of the teams we played had a lot of high school kids that didn’t go on to play college, but they hung around for whatever reason. It’s really a pretty high-competitive type of game.”
Wilson and Grimes hope the program can become an NAIA or NJCAA member.
“Eventually, we’d like to get into a situation like that, but I’m not sure where the school is wanting to go with it,” Grimes said. “With that, you’re probably going to have to talk about a facility to make sure you have a place to play and to train, and I’m not sure how much they’re wanting to get into that.”
This winter, the team practiced once a week at Foundation For Youth, Old Strong Tower Church or St. Peter’s Lutheran School.
“The biggest (problem) is gym time,” Grimes said. “The guys that played have been real accepting to playing organized style of basketball instead of one-on-one. The group we had last year was a really good group that got along good together and really just wanted to come out and learn.
“A lot of those guys had never really played organized (basketball), so we taught the things about screening and rolling and what kind of defense and pushing the ball in fast-break situations,” he said. “I’ve really seen a big difference from the start to the end.”
Justin Connors, 34, a 1997 East graduate, calls himself the “old man of the team.” Like Wilson, he didn’t play organized basketball in high school.
“It’s a lot different,” Connors said. “You learn things that coach teaches you like ‘You can’t stand around.’ If you’re not moving, you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing on the basketball court. It’s faster paced, and I actually like it a lot better than men’s leagues because the refs are a little bit more organized. You don’t have that bickering and that fighting, and then it’s just good being part of a team that plays together.”
Connors, an assistant manager at Disc Replay, is on track to graduate in May with a degree in business administration and is working on becoming a certified financial planner. He knew this year might be his last chance to play organized basketball.
“They said they were putting (a team) together, and I had some time to play, and I still wanted to play,” Connors said. “I’m getting toward the end of playing with younger guys. You hurt really bad the next day, but I decided that as long as I could go out and still run and I could still do some of the things that I used to do, that I would do it, as long as coach would let me play.”
Connors is one of two players who will be gone from the nine-man roster. Grimes is looking to add five players to bump the roster to 12.
Grimes also wants to increase the schedule to 15 or 16 games. He talked about possibly playing some colleges’ C-teams, club teams from Indiana University and Butler and some small Christian colleges.
Wilson, who is studying business administration, is glad he got the team together.
“It’s a big change,” Wilson said. “It’s a lot faster pace. Everybody is so laid back when you’re playing in leagues and at the courts, and there’s no organization. It was difficult adjusting, but it was fun. It’s well worth all the time and energy spent.”