MUTKA: German all-star Chris Ensminger helped launch Valpo hoops
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent February 2, 2014 9:56PM
Most career basketball records are made to be broken. Others? Maybe not.
At Valparaiso University a few that seem secure include Bryce Drew’s total of 2,142 points and Chris Ensminger’s 910 rebounds.
That inside-outside combination figured in a VU dynasty, which started with the first of five straight NCAA appearances in 1996.
Drew disagrees with my suggestion that the two standards won’t be toppled any time soon, but is constrained by modesty.
“All records will eventually be broken,” said Drew, who played two years with Ensminger, “but it will take a special player with a great nose for the ball.”
Few had a bigger schnozz than Ensminger, who was VU’s first giant-sized recruit. In 1991, the year before the 6-foot-11 bruiser from Cincinnati arrived, the Crusaders staggered to their second straight 5-22 record.
In his three years as a starter, VU flipped the switch. The Crusaders went 66-25, won two Mid-Continent Conference titles and tournaments and were thumped by Arizona in their first NCAA appearance.
“I think we were just happy to be there,” said Ensminger, referring to the hasty 90-51 exit in his senior season. “In awe, so to say.”
Two years later Drew fired the memorable shot that inspired VU’s first Sweet 16 appearance.
“Then, Valpo was not just happy to be there, but in the national spotlight,” said Ensminger, who refers to himself as a small piece of the puzzle.
Currently, he lives in Gotha, Germany, where he and his wife Beth (Baikitis), who hails from Chesterton, raised sons, Jake and Zach, while he played professional basketball. They were educated in German schools and speak the language fluently.
“They’re big into basketball along with soccer,” said Ensminger. “It would be great to see them follow in my footsteps at Valpo, but each one will have to make that decision.”
At a recent league all-star game, his jersey was retired, the first to be so honored by Beka Basketball Bundeslinga, Germany’s elite pro basketball league. The jersey was specially designed with the colors of all four teams he played for in that country over 14 years.
A seven-time all-star, he led the BBL in rebounding for five straight seasons (2001-2005), starred for two championship teams and was the MVP in the 2010 All-Star game.
“It became my trademark here in Germany,” emailed Ensminger. “My nickname was Mr. Rebound and has stuck with me.”
The Chairman of the Boards retired in May from playing in Bonn, where he spent his last four years. His life of leisure lasted one day. He now coaches the Oettinger Rockets in the Pro A League, which is one step below the BBL.
At Valparaiso Ensminger relied on positioning to grind the glass. Using a baby hook, which he shot with either hand, he spooned 1,061 career points and made the Mid-Con all-tournament team in his last two seasons.
“He was very crafty around the basket,” said retired VU coach Homer Drew. “Every year he got more aggressive. I think he was better going to the left with his hook shot.
“Chris compensated for his lack of jumping ability with positioning. He had good instincts and was a huge part of our success. He filled a huge need because we didn’t have much size my first couple of years as (VU’s) coach.”
Bryce Drew remembers him as an ideal teammate, who had a great feel for the game. Ensminger’s fakes up and underneath made him difficult to defend.
“Chris knew how to position himself and used his left hand exceptionally well around the basket,” Bryce said. “He had a lot of double-doubles.
“He wasn’t above the rim when he rebounded or scored, but got good results. At the end of the game you looked at his stats and he was a guy you needed to have on the floor. He did so many little things that helps a team be successful.”
Rest in peace, Pete: Condolences to MaryAnn Billick and her family on the recent death of Pete Billick, long-time football and track coach at Andrean. Pete made it to 80 before succumbing to a failing heart.
His longevity is a testament to understated courage. When Pete was 39, he lost his voice because of cancer of the throat, but was able to communicate for the rest of his life because of a voice box which he refined.
During his 30 years on Andrean’s campus he teamed up with Nick Crnkovich, who coached the 59ers to successive 10-0 seasons in 1968 and 1969. In 1972, Billick suceeded him as head man. From then until 1981, the Notre Dame grad guided the 59ers to a 58-42 record.
Pete had the pleasure of coaching his son, Larry, in football and track. He also groomed such players as Bill Dorulla, who coached football at Chesterton and is now Crown Point’s athletic director, and Tom Peller, Chesterton’s current basketball coach.
While Pete was teaching industrial arts, MaryAnn raised four children. Amazingly she also found time to babysit our four kids during the nine years our tribe lived in Miller. Truly the Billicks epitomize family values.
Rose story blooms: And now it begins again. Get set for non-stories and endless rumors about Derrick Rose. Will the withering star play? Won’t he play? Do we have to suffer through this endless Bull-oney for the rest of the season?
Stop the world, I want to get off!