These past few months have been a blast. Want to know why? It’s because of Trinity International University basketball.
TIU is well known in some circles for its notable alumni, including authors and leaders like Ravi Zacharias, Bill Hybels, and many others. But as a NAIA Division II school, it’s not quite as well known for its sports teams. Translation: it’s near the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to the scholarships it can give, the talent it can attract, and the opportunities to build a championship program.
But don’t tell that to Boomer Roberts, the 30-year-old head coach of TIU’s men’s basketball team. Boomer and I became friends during my time in Chicago and I’ve watched him turn this “bottom of the totem pole” team to a national title contender.
It’s true. His team just set a school record for wins, beating teams it has never beat before, making it all the way to the semifinals – the furthest the school has ever been in the NAIA DII tournament. And while the team had set its sights on winning it all, no one can deny the magnitude of their accomplishment.
Boomer’s team is led by a young man named Grant Corsi. Grant may not be the leading scorer, or a first team All-American (he’s second team), but ask anyone and they’ll tell you: he’s the heart and soul of the Trojans. Grant is a natural-born leader. He and I developed a pretty cool relationship as well, and I’ve watched him mature over the past year from a junior who “wanted it” to a senior who was going to help his team go and get it. Grant and I attend church together and we had a conversation before his senior season. The dedication in his eyes was unmatched. We also had a conversation right before the tournament. He was sharing his heart for his teammates and his desire to see them grow as men. Not bad for a 22-year-old.
Then there is his teammate, Zach Kirschbaum. Zach IS an All-American and happens to be league MVP. None of that is by accident. Zach is as talented as they come, but he is surrounded by a coach who pushes him, teammates who motivate him, and a family who loves him. And don’t let his 6’10” frame fool you – Zach is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet, at least off the court.
Behind him is Henry French, the spark. People usually come to games just to watch him light up an arena with one of his gravity-defying dunks. He’s actually in the NAIA dunk contest, which takes place on March 18 during the NAIA DI championship game. Behind them is a host of playmakers, talented in their own right: Jeremy and Greg Carlyle (twins from Compton), Luke Mead (aka “Grandpa”), plus so many other great players like Sean, TJ, Will, DJ, Nate, Sam, Rick, Mark, and Nate. Each one of these guys brings something unique to the table, and each one of them plays a unique role on the team. But the reason they win is not because of talent. They win because they love each other. They love each other with a true, genuine love that is hard to come by in sports.
So hard to come by, in fact, that when you see it, you take note. And that’s what makes this team so special. It’s evident. Their love for each other emanates from the court and the bench. I’ve seen it first hand. I’ve even been in the locker room postgame and seen – win or lose – how these men stand together as brothers who do not criticize but compliment each other’s play. They build each other up. They care for one another. They see each other as more important than themselves.
As a professional athlete who is also a Christian, this is so refreshing for me. Jesus talks about us being the salt of the earth, to help preserve things that are good. This team is doing just that. Jesus also talks about us being the light of the world, and a city on a hill that can’t be hidden. This team exemplifies that better than I’ve ever seen.
So keep shining, boys. I know the season didn’t end the way you may have wanted, but what God did through you made more of an impact than any game ever could. Much love my brothers.