John Mutka: Drews remain basketball’s first family
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent October 14, 2012 11:16PM
Homer Drew (center) is flanked by his sons Bryce Drew (left) and Scott Drew (right). Valparaiso University men's basketball coach Homer Drew announced his retirement during a press conference at VU's Harre Union in Valparaiso, Ind. Tuesday May 17, 2011. Bryce Drew, son of Homer Drew and assistant coach, was introduced as the Crusaders' new head coach. Scott Drew is the coach at Baylor University. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 16, 2012 6:21AM
Once a coach, always a coach.
Which is why Homer Drew can’t completely divorce himself from basketball after 34 years.
“I miss the camraderie, getting to know the kids in practice,” he admits a year after retiring. “Watching them develop.”
Players like Ryan Broekhoff, who evolved from freshman to Horizon League player of the year.
“Their growth on and off the court makes coaching so enjoyable,” said Drew, who tutored the Australian import in his first two years.
What Drew is particularly proud of is that all but two or three of the student-athletes who played for him in 25 years earned degrees.
Most of his 640 college victories — 371 to be exact — came at Valparaiso University, a career record which should stand the test of time.
Drew retired twice, handing over the job to his son, Scott, who bolted for Baylor in 2003 after one year as VU’s coach, then returning to groom his son, Bryce, who guided the Crusaders to 22 victories and the Horizon League regular-season title in his rookie year.
This time Homer’s retirement should stick, especially since the serious health issues affected him and his wife, Janet, who were operated on last year after being diagnosed with cancer just three days apart. Janet needed a second surgery, but Homer is cancer-free and both were doing well enough to visit Scott recently in Waco, Texas.
“You go through different stages, starting with ‘why us?,’ ” said Drew, but spiritual strength helped this deeply religious family through the crisis. “Eventually we realized it’s all part of God’s plan and moved on.”
The Drews could be considered basketball’s first family, enjoying the distinction of being the only three-man unit to have coached at the same Division I university.
Their only challengers would be the Suttons, but they coached at different schools.
Eddie Sutton piled up 798 victories and three Final Fours as a Division I coach, most of the victories manufactured at Arkansas and Oklahoma State. His oldest son, Sean, followed up with 39 victories in three years before the Cowboys booted him.
His brother, Scott, missed the Oklahoma State connection, but has coached at Oral Roberts since 1999, recently becoming the program’s winningest coach.
“They’re the only other family I can think of,” said Homer.
Still part of the VU athletic familly, he works in fundraising, enrollment and marketing with athletic director Mark LaBarbera, but finds the time to sit in occasionally at meetings with Bryce and his youthful staff.
“I don’t know about input,” said Homer, “but I enjoy listening to them interact.”
Interacting includes late night three-way phone conversations with Scott and Bryce. Guess what they talk about.
“Those are special moments,” Homer agreed.
Since Scott left VU, where he evolved into an outstanding recruiter over a 10-year stretch, he has converted a corrupted and scandalized program into a national force. His record of 121-55 since 2007 includes two elite eight appearances in the last three years.
More of the same wouldn’t surprise Homer.
“They’ll be very strong in the back court, six deep,” he said.
Baylor’s talent pool begins with Pierre Jackson, who was named the Big 12 preseason player of the year as well as an Athlon All-American. Adding point guard A.J. Walton and Brady Heslip provides 75 returning starts.
Three front-liners from the Bears, who set a school record of 30 victories — Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller — were plucked in the NBA draft.
Which raises the question of how quickly an inexperienced front line matures. Center Isaiah Austin, a 7-foot NBA prospect with a giant wingspan, 6-8, 260-pound Rico Gathers and 6-11 Chad Rykhoek are gifted freshmen who will ripen in time.
“Austin could be a one-and-done,” said Homer, after watching Baylor practice during his visit to Waco. “He runs well, can shoot outside and has very good perimeter skills.
“Rico is built like Charles Barkley with his body type.”
Closer to home, VU has already been anointed as the preseason favorite to repeat in the Horizon League. Some skeptics suggest it was by default because Butler was kicked out of the league a year early, but they conveniently omit VU’s 4-1 record in their last five meetings. Incidentally, Butler has been picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic 10.
Bryce’s Crusaders will blend six seniors with five incoming freshmen who have strong Midwest roots.
Wouldn’t it be a great story angle if the brothers could meet during the NCAA’s Big Dance? Where would Homer and Janet sit if fantasy became reality?
“Ideally, I’d like to see them play deep in the tournament,” said their proud pop.
He calls it a win-win situation. “I don’t think it’s ever happened before.”
Meanwhile, the elder Drew is gearing up for his first visit to Asia. Starting on Oct. 21, he will spend a week in China doing basketball clinics, starting in Beijing.
He’ll also visit with officials from the Shanghai Sharks, a professional basketball team owned by former NBA star Yao Ming.
Remember when ping-pong diplomacy was what Americans associated with China? Step aside for basketball.
“It’s on fire,” Homer said.
Someday he hopes to see someone from the world’s most populous country wearing a VU uniform.