When Millikin’s head basketball coach Matt Nadelhoffer inherited the team two years ago, the players were anything but winners. Battered and broken, the team was practically non-existent.
Struggling through his first season coming in dead last at conference, Nadelhoffer knew it was time to turn things around.
“There was definite potential in these players,” he said.
Nadelhoffer emptied his roster and rebuilt from the ground up. He now has a new and improved team of 23 players – 2 juniors, 14 sophomores and 7 freshmen. So far, the team is looking pretty good this year.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “I think we’re headed in the right direction as a program. Any further south and we would have struck oil – which might be good for Millikin, but we’re definitely heading north which is great.”
Besides zeroing in on opponent and strategizing game techniques, Nadelhoffer and the players have been focused on other priorities as well – team building and community service. Recently, the team traveled to Milwaukee for a two-day retreat where activities included paintball and discussing team and individual goals. They also helped prepare the campgrounds for winter by raking leaves and taking out cabin air conditioning units.
In regards to community service, Nadelhoffer hopes that his players will have the heart to do service.
“By the way we run our program, we are constantly putting others in front of ourselves,” he said. “By no means do I want to force them to do service, but hopefully they will want to do it. I want the guys to feel good about helping others. There’s no better reward than seeing the smiles and appreciation from others, it makes you feel good.
“The guys and I believe in this program, and we want to be a program for other athletic teams to emulate. Our mannerisms count on and off the floor.”
Through the players’ efforts, Nadelhoffer hopes to get the Decatur community more involved and wants to fill up Griswold as much as possible for every game.
Besides volunteering at the retreat, the players have been involved with the Big Brothers program, feeding the homeless at Good Samaritan, coordinating basketball camps for the community, and mulching Millikin’s campus. Nadelhoffer says a tradition to feed the homeless will most likely start up because it was eye opening to see an estimated 185 people come for one meal.
To junior and team captain Drew Bollier, community service has made a special impact on him.
“I’m not from Decatur,” he said. “Just being able to get out in the community and meet people who are native and seeing the impact Millikin kids have on them. It brightens their days and they really appreciate having us around.”
By participating in community service projects, the players are learning about team building in a broader sense. Team building is considered to be the most important aspect within any sport because it’s about building relationships that will last for years to come.
“You can’t get anywhere without having relations with people,” said junior and student assistant Andrew Graf.
In the end, Nadelhoffer hopes the values of helping, impacting and giving others hope will carry on to their future families and careers. Even if the team loses 25 games this season, learning to serve is definitely considered a win.