Hungry. Unsatisfied. These feelings might apply for when you just finished a great season of television, or polished off a pint of ice cream.
For Roosevelt University’s men’s basketball team, that feeling comes as it enters the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) Tournament as a two-seed, with a potential berth to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division II tournament looming close behind.
Fresh off a program-record 24th win over Trinity Christian University in the team’s regular season finale Feb. 17, the Lakers are set to battle Cardinal Stritch University in the CCAC Tournament’s quarterfinal matchup at the Goodman Center on Wednesday.
“We’re trying to show that we’re not a fluke, and I think we’ve proved that so far,” said senior forward Joshua Dillingham. “Being number two, we want to prove that we are in fact the best in the conference, not just second. I think our mindset has just been one game at a time, just proving that we are the toughest, most together team.”
“Toughest Together” has in fact been a rallying cry for the Lakers, who earned a spot on the NAIA DII Men’s Basketball Top 25 Coaches’ Poll for the first time in program history on Feb. 6. Bolstered by a pair of nine-game win streaks, the Lakers’ season has been a test of physical, mental and emotional toughness.
For Dillingham, that’s been helped by “just being the most together team, being genuinely happy for everyone that’s making good plays. Being excited for one another and holding each other accountable, I think that’s what’s helped us succeed so far.”
Jake Ludwig, the Lakers’ junior guard and leading scorer this season at 17.6 points per game, knows to take nothing for granted, however, but a brief reflection on the season has yielded undeniably positive thoughts.
“Pretty much every goal we’ve set, we’ve accomplished,” Ludwig said. “We haven’t achieved our ultimate goal yet, which is reaching the national tournament, but we’ve surprised ourselves. You set goals in the back of your mind knowing that it’s going to be tough. For me at least, it’s unbelievable to look back at the last game of last season when we set future goals, we checked a lot of those things off.”
Head Coach Joe Griffin has made sure the team adds a few more to-dos to that season checklist. He hesitates to call the season “great,” and cites Jim Collins’ book Good to Great [Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t] — the team’s assigned reading — as proof of what can happen when one settles into complacency rather reach a higher level.
Griffin has succeeded in cultivating a culture of ownership among the players and coaching staff, making sure everyone’s accountable for the overall performance of the team.
“Everybody wants to win a national championship, but you can’t do that unless you get to the tournament,” Griffin said. “So, it’s a good year, but it’s not great yet. With these guys leading the way, we know that we’ve still got a long way to go.
“For me, we have the whole spring and summer to reflect on our season,” Griffin added. “I think if you start reflecting now, I think you can distracted and lose focus.”
After the Lakers special Senior Day win over Trinity Christian, however, one would be hard-pressed to keep the team from enjoying the moment. Dillingham, along with fellow seniors Adam Alexander and Tomas Cutts, were sent off well, something the 6-foot-4-inch forward will treasure for a long time.
“It’s huge. The reason why I came here was to create a culture, to help bring something new to a school,” Dillingham said. “We have the opportunity to do that, to be the face of that turnaround. I can’t believe how fast [my career] has been, and now that we’re succeeding, it’s something I’ve already visualized so many times. It’s amazing.”
The No. 2 Roosevelt Lakers host No. 7 Cardinal Stritch University in a CCAC Tournament quarterfinal matchup, Wednesday, Feb. 21 at Goodman Center, 7 p.m.