IUPUI enhances men’s basketball in Horizon League

YOUNGSTOWN — Indianapolis is a city that brings back fond memories for Jerrod Calhoun.

The Youngstown State University men’s basketball coach was the West Virginia director of basketball operations when the Mountaineers advanced to the Final Four there in 2010.

“Indianapolis is a tremendous city,” he said.

Calhoun will get to relive that feeling this season when YSU travels to newest Horizon League member IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis).

The Jaguars entered the league July 1, replacing Valparaiso, which left for the Missouri Valley Conference.

“I thought commissioner (Jonathan) LeCrone did a tremendous job in a difficult time,” Calhoun said. “I think the landscape of college athletics has really changed. For him to get a team that fast, for him to get the presidents on board, he did a magnificent job.”

This Jaguars team has had success in the Summit League, previously called the Mid-Continent Conference. Current Georgia State coach Ron Hunter led IUPUI to the NCAA Tournament in 2003 and had no less than 15 wins for the remainder of his tenure with the Jaguars.

“They do have a history,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “The city is fantastic. Great place to take your team to. Tremendous restaurants in that city. It’s a sport town.

“I think it’s great our league is in Indianapolis. I think it’s good that IUPUI is in the league. I look forward to playing against them.”

Oakland knows IUPUI better than most Horizon League teams, since the Golden Grizzlies played against the Jaguars before leaving the Summit League in 2013.

The Jaguars had a 26-7 record in the 2007-08 season, led by first-round NBA Draft selection George Hill. The Sacramento Kings point guard led IUPUI to its best season under Hunter. After Hunter left, the Jaguars didn’t post more than 14 wins. Jason Gardner, who has been with the Jaguars for the past three campaigns, has seen his teams improve each of those years.

The Jaguars left their 1,215-seat on-campus arena named The Jungle in 2014 and moved to the Indiana Farmer Coliseum, which has a capacity of 6,800.

“When Hunter left, it took a big step backward,” Kampe said. “Their history shows when they’re good, they’ll draw. I think our fans in the Horizon League that don’t know much about them, they look at the numbers now and they think we’re bring in a team that averages 1,100 a game.”

IUPUI was slated to come to YSU for its home opener, but that changed when the Jaguars joined the Horizon League. The Penguins won’t see them until league games begin in the 2018 portion of the campaign.

“Our schedule has been a little bit crazy this year,” Calhoun said. “It was a little bit of a curveball. We had them on the schedule as a regular-season opponent. We had to make an adjustment on the fly. In the future, you’re going to see more and more home games.

“We’re not too excited we don’t have as many home games. We’re excited to play some of the high major schools we’re able to play. That was a little bit of a hiccup, but we’re happy they’re in the league.”

The Horizon League was down to nine teams after Butler, located in Indianapolis, left for the Atlantic-10 Conference in the spring of 2012.

IUPUI doesn’t replace the gargantuan presence Butler had in terms of back-to-back national runner-up finishes in 2010 and ’11, but the Jaguars give the Horizon League something it lost when the Bulldogs left prior to the 2012-13 season.

“They’re a great media market,” Kampe said. “It puts us in another large city media market we want. Butler did that for the Horizon League. Indianapolis media knows a lot about the Horizon League. We’re tapping into a media market that’s already educated on us. That in my estimation is probably the biggest thing.”