TERRE HAUTE —
Nobody would argue that Rose-Hulman senior Julian Strickland has been a good basketball player, at the very least, since his high school days at Pike in Indianapolis.
Some might say “great,” although he seemed to shy away from the spotlight.
As a Rose sophomore in 2011-12, the 6-foot-3 guard was named Most Valuable Player of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament, which the Engineers won to claim an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.
As a junior last season, Strickland earned the HCAC’s regular-season MVP award when he averaged 14.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. In the process, Rose-Hulman captured conference titles in the regular season and the tournament and advanced to the Division III tourney for the second straight year.
Well, Strickland has shoved his name into the conversation as one of the best Division III players in the country by averaging 24.7 ppg through the Engineers’ first seven games. The 25.7 average he had before Monday’s 64-55 road victory over Millikin was 10th highest in the most recently released DIII national statistics.
In consecutive games against Chicago, Carroll and Wabash, Strickland ripped the nets for 31, 30 and 31 points respectively for the 4-3 Engineers, who played Wednesday night at longtime rival DePauw.
Now seems like the perfect time for Strickland to step into the spotlight. And he’s doing just that, even if it doesn’t come naturally to him.
“Absolutely he’s one of the best players we’ve had since I’ve been here,” 20th-year Rose head coach Jim Shaw told the Tribune-Star.
Asked to compare Strickland to other Rose-Hulman standouts from the past, Shaw replied: “It’s difficult to name names because I’m afraid I’ll leave somebody out.”
“Obviously Bryan Egli [from the late 1990s], particularly from a scoring aspect, was very special,” he elaborated. “Kiley Gwaltney [also from the ’90s] was a great all-around player. Julian’s game reminds me a little bit of Kiley. But then this year, he’s transitioned a little bit [toward being more of a scorer]. Now I’d say he’s kind of a combination of those two guys, which is a really good combination.”
Strickland wasn’t always considered a basketball standout, although nobody ever doubted that he possessed talent and a positive, team-first attitude. At Pike, he played with several athletes who later took their skills to the NBA or college basketball, including current Indiana State swingman Khristian Smith.
“We had a lot of athletes and a lot of talent on our team,” Strickland reflected. “I was a little in the shadows in high school.”
Still, he never worried that he would get noticed by a college program.
“I always had confidence in myself,” Strickland stressed. “I knew I would end up somewhere where I’d be happy and be able to play.”
Enter Rose-Hulman, where Shaw and assistant coach Rusty Loyd aggressively recruited him.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be an architect and I thought civil engineering [which became his major] was pretty similar,” Strickland explained. “Coach Loyd and coach Shaw reached out to me. They told me I could play basketball and get a great education here. What better school to do that at than Rose-Hulman?”
Shaw realized he had a gem on his hands when Strickland agreed to attend Rose.
“We knew he was going to be pretty good,” the veteran coach recalled. “He took a very secondary role in high school because of the team around him. But we knew that his athleticism, skill level and character would make him a great player.”
Shaw nailed that 2010 assessment and now he’s reaping the benefits.
“He can really dominate a game by scoring points,” Shaw said, “but he’s also still a great defender and he’s very, very unselfish and team-oriented.”
Averaging roughly 10 points a game more than he did last season, Strickland worked hard during the off-season to make 2013-14 his best to date.
“The challenge for Julian is to fight his own unselfish and unassuming personality,” Shaw noted. “He knew that coming in to this year, he was going to have to be a little more assertive. And I think it is something he has grown and is still growing into.
“He had kind of a stretch early in [preseason] practice where he wasn’t as good as I thought he was capable of being and he was feeling a little frustrated. So I had a talk with him about just being himself. What I wanted to avoid was trying to make something out of him that he wasn’t and in the process losing a little bit of him. But I think we’ve worked through that and now he’s really comfortable and becoming more comfortable with that role.
“The other thing he’s doing is he’s scoring quite a few points, but at times he’s doing it very quietly by getting to the free-throw line an enormous amount of times by just making good plays and doing things within our offense.”
Before Wednesday’s matchup at DePauw, Strickland had converted 65 of 76 charity tosses, good for 85.5 percent. That’s an average of almost 11 free-throw attempts per outing.
Despite Strickland’s eye-popping statistics, the Rose-Hulman sharpshooter insists there is room for even more improvement in his game.
“You can always improve,” he pointed out. “I’m never satisfied and I never settle. I can’t settle. I have to make sure I’m always being aggressive. … On the court, I need to make sure I’m driving it hard to the basket and finishing.”
The team as a whole can improve as well, Strickland said, and Shaw agreed.
“This year, it’s changed a lot with our seniors who graduated [from last season],” Strickland mentioned. “I think defense is something we need to get better at. We’ve adjusted since the first few games of the season. We allowed a lot of points in the first few games. … Defense is key for us. We can always get better at that.”
“There’s absolutely no doubt we have to be better defensively and on the boards,” Shaw emphasized. “We cannot rely on Julian getting 30 [points] to propel us to winning games. I think we are getting better defensively and I think we are getting better on the boards, but it’s definitely a work in progress.”
Despite their search for all-around perfection, Shaw appreciates what he has in Strickland.
“He’s a joy to coach,” Shaw said. “Every coach who coaches any sport should at some point in his or her career be blessed with coaching a kid like Julian Strickland. And I mean that sincerely. Not only is he a great player, but he has all the right intentions. He’s a great, great teammate. A lot of times, big scorers create resentment and jealousy. But there’s not one guy on the team who resents anything that comes his way because of the kind of teammate he is.”
Rose senior guard Jordy Martin, a four-year teammate with Strickland, confirmed what Shaw stated.
“He’s an even better person than he is a player,” Martin noted. “We’ve been roommates the last three years. … “It’s great [being a teammate with Strickland]. We can always defer to him when we need a bucket. He is very unselfish, so sometimes we have to talk to him and tell him to be aggressive.”
Regarding Strickland, Shaw admitted that there’s a fine line between forcing shots in a crowd of defenders and being aggressive to create shot opportunities.
“It’s a very difficult fine line,” he maintained. “The expression you hear a lot of times is ‘allow the game to come to you.’ But then in the same breath, coaches will say, ‘You have to be assertive and don’t accept it.’ But then you have to play within yourself and you have to take what the defense is giving. All of those things sometimes are in conflict. So you have to get a real good balance.
“What I want him to do is be aggressive in the search of his shot and be assertive and think ‘score first,’ then adjust from there. Sometimes people are going to guard him differently. Sometimes people are going to guard him better. Sometimes different things are going to be available. But I think most nights, some things are going to be available for him because of his versatility and his overall skill level.”
Strickland acknowledged that the challenge to become more assertive isn’t always easy.
“Coach pretty much trusts me out there,” he said. “It’s tough to be that go-to guy because we don’t really have too many other people who can create the way that I can. But at the same time, my teammates step up when they need to. Coach, in the game when I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing, he gets on me pretty well. … So far, it’s working and hopefully it keeps working throughout the rest of the season.”
Shaw said he trusts Strickland’s on-court judgment … for the most part.
“His intentions I never, ever, ever doubt,” he emphasized. “But sometimes, as a player, he sees things differently than I do as a coach in regard to his assertiveness level. The one thing I’m constantly reminding him of is finishing strong and not settling. … He’s done a much better job this year of not settling.”
As for his post-Rose future, Strickland said he is considering playing pro basketball overseas after he graduates, although nothing is set in stone. Becoming an architect remains his long-range goal.
Which ever path he decides to travel first, Strickland will always carry fond memories of his time at Rose-Hulman.
“My four years here, I’ve been able to do what I love and that’s play basketball,” he said with a smile. “I couldn’t ask for more.”
Engineers' guard ranks among top Division III scorers so far
TERRE HAUTE —
Nobody would argue that Rose-Hulman senior Julian Strickland has been a good basketball player, at the very least, since his high school days at Pike in Indianapolis.
METRO ROUNDUP: Odum shines in Portsmouth Invitational
Former Indiana State guard Jake Odum had a productive first night at the Portsmouth Invitational late Thursday.
The Terre Haute native scored 16 points, had six assists and three steals for the Portsmouth Partnership team in its 88-81 victory over Cherry Bekaert.
ISU falls to Canisius in first of three-game road series
The Indiana State baseball team fell behind early and never could get the lead as host Canisius posted a 3-1 victory in the opener of a three-game series Friday at Demske Sports Complex.
The Sycamores (24-11) and Griffins (21-13) will meet again at 2 p.m. today, but the venue will switch to Dwyer Stadium in Batavia, N.Y. The same two teams also will play Sunday back at Demske Sports Complex in a noon start.
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods sweeps doubleheader over Rose-Hulman
Over the years, defeating its crosstown rival has not usually been easy for Saint Mary-of-the-Woods or Rose-Hulman when they’ve met in college softball.
But on Wednesday afternoon at The Woods, the home team made its doubleheader sweep look easy to first-year coach Mark Feller with five-inning decisions of 10-0 and 11-1.
Terre Haute North grad O'Leary to transfer from Loyola
Matt O’Leary is one of three men's basketball players at Loyola recently granted a release from his scholarship from the Missouri Valley Conference school.
The former Terre Haute North standout told the Tribune-Star he doesn’t yet know his next move.
Rose-Hulman, Woods to face off on softball diamond
The Rose-Hulman softball team will visit a familiar foe today when the Engineers take on crosstown rival Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in a nonleague doubleheader.
ISU baseball holds off Eastern Illinois for 24th win
Indiana State freshman left-hander Ryan Keaffaber won his first game as a Sycamore and senior catcher Mike Fitzgerald went 3 for 3 as ISU defeated host Eastern Illinois 6-4 in college baseball Tuesday.
Top returners lead Cream over Crimson in Hoosiers' spring game
The Cream team at Saturday’s Cream and Crimson intrasquad game had Indiana’s top returning rusher and receiver and the Hoosiers’ top-rated passer from last season.
No surprise, then, that Tevin Coleman, Shane Wynn and Tre Roberson guided the Cream to a resounding 24-14 win over the Crimson.
Rose-Hulman baseball gets wild doubleheader sweep
Host Rose-Hulman came back from an early six-run deficit in the first game Saturday and went on to a 13-12, 7-1 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference baseball sweep over Mount St. Joseph.
The wild opener featured a Rose-Hulman comeback from an 8-2 deficit and included 18 hits and two school records for the Engineers.
METRO ROUNDUP: ISU softball earns doubleheader sweep at Missouri State
Yvette Alvarez’s one-hit shutout capped a dominant day of pitching Saturday as Indiana State swept a Missouri Valley Conference softball doubleheader at Missouri State by scores of 6-1 and 4-0.
“We pitched well,” coach Shane Bouman said. “Both Taylor Lockwood in the first game and Yvette Alvarez in the second game threw great. When you pitch good and you play good defense and get some key hits, good things are going to happen.
ISU football set for first spring scrimmage
Thanks to a limited number of available offensive linemen — a group that will at least double in numbers in the fall with the addition of recruits and currently injured players — the Sycamores won’t have a full-scale scrimmage, but will still intersperse scrimmage plays (with officials) among other practice drills.
“We’re thin,” coach Mike Sanford admitted after practice Thursday. “The scrimmage will be part of practice — probably 30 or 40 plays altogether. We only have five to seven healthy offensive linemen, so we can’t go [in a scrimmage format] for long stretches of time.”
METRO ROUNDUP: Waltman's funeral Saturday at Indianapolis
Royce Waltman’s visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at St. Luke’s Methodist Church at 100 E. 86th Street, Indianapolis.
ISU baseball falls to Vanderbilt 6-2
The seventh-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores took control early to defeat the Indiana State Sycamores 6-2
ISU baseball sweeps doubleheader against Wichita State
Indiana State baseball coach Mitch Hannahs finally got what he’s been looking for from the Sycamores’ Friday and Saturday starters ... and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Preseason Missouri Valley Conference favorite Wichita State is in town for a crucial series. With ISU 2-4 in the league, it was vital for the Sycamores to validate their better-than-expected form in nonconference play with MVC success in Saturday’s doubleheader at Bob Warn Field.
METRO ROUNDUP: Rose-Hulman's nine-game winnings streak snapped
Rose-Hulman had its nine-game winning streak snapped with two tightly contested losses at defending Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference champion Manchester on Saturday.
Sycamores get commitment from junior-college point guard
Following Indiana State’s loss to Marquette in the WNIT, coach Teri Moren touched on the future of the program after the loss of Sycamore senior Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir.
Prusator gives ISU a shooter for 2015
Grant Prusator, a native of Rochelle, Ill., has made a verbal commitment to play basketball for Indiana State starting in the 2014-15 season. He will have three years of eligibility with the Sycamores as he played just one year for Highland Community College.
Metro sports: Locks of Love tournament today at Memorial Stadium
The Indiana State Women’s Soccer team will host its annual Locks of Love tournament today. The 4th annual event will begin at 9 a.m. at Memorial Stadium.
Indiana State secondary could be mending into a strength
During Indiana State’s injury-ravaged 2013 season, there wasn’t a unit on either side of the ball that was spared from the carnage.
But if one had to be singled out as hardest hit in the injury department, it would be difficult to out-do the Sycamores’ secondary.
Every player that started in ISU’s season opener at Indiana not only missed at least one game last season, but the entire starting unit was out of action by the end of September.
Reed named Midseason National Player of the Year
Half of the college baseball season is done and one prominent college baseball publication thinks Terre Haute’s A.J. Reed is best player in the land.
Reed, a junior at Kentucky, was named the Midseason National Player of the Year by Perfect Game USA, a website devoted to college baseball.
Laramie to transfer from ISU women's basketball program
Indiana State forward Marina Laramie averaged 9.9 points and started all 32 games as a sophomore for the Sycamores.
But the 6-foot-2 women’s basketball player will continue her career elsewhere.
Metro sports: ISU blanks Austin Peay in 6-plus innings
Indiana State’s baseball team posted another mid-week victory Wednesday night as four pitchers combined to throw a three-hit shutout and lead a 3-0 victory over Austin Peay State at Bob Warn Field.
Chicago guard commits to ISU women's basketball
The Indiana State women’s basketball team picked up a verbal commitment from Chicago guard Kiera Brooks on Tuesday.
The 5-foot-7 junior for North Lawndale College Prep visited ISU’s campus for the first time, met the team and chose her college home. Brooks averaged 18.7 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals for coach Corey Morgan’s 15-11 squad.
METRO ROUNDUP: ISU softball tops IU 7-5
The Indiana State softball team remained a perfect 13-0 when scoring in the first inning as it defeated Indiana (9-24-1) 7-5 Tuesday for its second consecutive victory over a Big Ten opponent.
Dedicated to helping others
It’s not like Marissa Stout is bored out of her mind and lacking for things to do.
Metro sports: ISU’s Stone, Riemenschneider honored by MVC
Indiana State junior Megan Stone and freshman Brooke Riemenschneider each earned Missouri Valley Conference Athlete of the Week honors, according to an announcement from the league office Monday.
ISU baseball shows mental toughness in win over Illinois State
When the pressure’s on, there’s nothing a coach likes more than to see his team double down on their approach and grit out a positive result.
Going the distance: Redbirds ace Savas allows just five hits while shutting down Sycamores
Indiana State’s pitchers weren’t their best in Friday’s series opener against Illinois State, but it seemed the Sycamores might get away with it. Through seven innings, ISU had issued six walks, gave up six hits and hit a batter, but still trailed by just a run. But ISU’s luck with its generosity would give out in the eighth, and even if it hadn’t, Illinois State standout starter Dan Savas had the Sycamores’ bats in a deep freeze anyway. The Redbirds defeated the Sycamores 5-2 at Bob Warn Field.
Woods softball team wins 4th straight
The Saint Mary-of-the-Woods softball team swept Grace College with a pair of wins in its home opener Wednesday.
Devoted brothers: Mahurins relish chance to team up and win NAIA title
It wasn’t a great year for NCAA basketball in the Hoosier state outside of Indiana State’s 23-victory season.
But a team in NAIA Division II with eight Indiana natives — and coached by former Valparaiso point guard Greg Tonagel, an Indiana All-Star for his hometown of LaPorte — brought home a national basketball championship.
Tonagel, the scrappy point guard who played alongside Bryce Drew for that magical Valpo team, created more March hoops memories with the help of Rockville brothers R.J. and Lane Mahurin.
‘A full night’: Leadoff hitter Curry leads 16-hit attack as Sycamores pound Hoosiers
Lead-off man Landon Curry had four of Indiana State’s 16 hits Wednesday afternoon, and cleanup hitter Mike Fitzgerald reached for the 17th straight game to lead the Sycamores to a 12-8 victory.
- More College Headlines
- METRO ROUNDUP: Odum shines in Portsmouth Invitational