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Coach Powell Coach Powell
A New Chapter for Valparaiso University Men’s Basketball

Unfinished Business

Fall 2023

Photo by Matthew Gilson

Valparaiso University basketball opened a new chapter on April 7, 2023, as Roger Powell Jr. ’16 M.S. returned to the University and took the reins as the men’s program’s 23rd head coach.

A native of Joliet, Illinois, Coach Powell had a successful college career on the court, becoming a three-year starter for the University of Illinois and earning an Honorable Mention in the All-Big Ten recognition in his final two seasons after being named to the Big Ten All-Tournament Team as a sophomore. He helped the University of Illinois win three Big Ten regular season titles, two Big Ten Tournament crowns, and three Sweet Sixteen berths. During his senior year, Coach Powell was a major factor in the team’s 37-2 season and 29-game winning streak. He finished his career as one of the top 30 scorers in the program’s history at 1,178 points.

After a year playing for the Rockford Lightning, he played for the Utah Jazz, followed by an international career that took him to Italy, Germany, Israel, Spain, and France.

Moving on to coaching, Coach Powell found just as much success in guiding student-athletes as he did while being one. In 2011, he began his first position at Valparaiso University, serving as assistant coach on Bryce Drew’s ’98 staff. Coach Powell was part of the team that led Valpo to 124 wins in five seasons, a program-record 30 victories, and a National Invitation Tournament (NIT) title game appearance in 2015–2016.

After leaving Valpo in 2016, Coach Powell worked with athletes at Vanderbilt University, then at Gonzaga University, where his team reached the 2021 national championship game after winning their first 31 games of the season. During each of his last three seasons, the Gonzaga Bulldogs reached the Sweet Sixteen, including two Elite Eight appearances and a trip to the 2021 national title game. The Associated Press ranked the 2020–2021 team number one in the nation, and Gonzaga was the No. 1 overall seed in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 2021 and 2022.

With that explosive series of wins under his belt, Coach Powell was offered the chance to return to Valparaiso University, this time as the head of the program. Looking back on his career, Coach Powell realized something at Valpo that he would reference time and again in public appearances: unfinished business.

“Last time I was here, we went to the NIT championship two out of the five years and had one league championship, but we didn’t win a game in the tournament,” Coach Powell says. “When I worked with Bryce, that was a desire of ours. I remember having a conversation before that tournament game, saying ‘we should take Valpo to the final four.’ When this opportunity came back around, my first thought was ‘unfinished business’.”

We sat down recently with Coach Powell and Charles Small, Ed.D., director of athletics, to talk about their plans for Valpo men’s basketball team and the fan experience.

A Vision of Greatness

As he prepares to start his first season as head of the program, Coach Powell makes it clear that he has big goals for Valpo men’s basketball.

“I want to make Valpo basketball relevant,” Coach Powell says. “I want to make a run in the NCAA tournament. I want to create some of those experiences for our community and our city and let our fans go to these NCAA sites and experience that feeling.”

Winning games isn’t just about the pride of the players or the enjoyment of the fans, though. Part of Director Small’s overall plan for Valpo Athletics is based on the idea that creating a winning atmosphere will play a vital role in helping our student-athletes be their best selves.

“We’re going to be laser-focused on two things: first, we want our student-athletes to flourish, and that’s through holistic development and being the best versions of themselves, and I think winning is a part of that,” Director Small says. “When they see success in their sport, that’s a really good experience, in addition to the great education they’re going to get here at Valpo.

“Second, we’re going to be great ambassadors for the University. For us, athletics is a way to tell the University’s story. Our men’s basketball program is critical to that because we have the history, we’ve had the success, but also when you think about television, social media, and fan interest, it’s not only a critical piece to our athletic department, but also our University and building that brand. Roger and our men’s basketball program are key parts of that plan.”

Building a winning team starts with its players, and for Coach Powell, that goes beyond simply having a talent for the game and involves having their sights set on higher goals.

“I like looking for guys who enjoy playing basketball, but also want to be pros. It gives them a little more accountability in their work ethic,” he says. “I want guys who are tough and want to compete.”

Bringing a new player to Valpo, however, means adding more than just one new person to the basketball program family. Coach Powell wants the people and communities who supported his athletes to be as involved and invested in the Valpo men’s basketball story as possible.

“These good players come from homes with parents and communities that support them, and I want them to be a part of our success as well,” Coach Powell says.

Coach Powell is also confident that he can find great talent close to home, focusing on the Region, Indiana in general, and Chicago in his recruitment efforts, and believes playing for an organization close to home will help light a fire under his team.

“I want people to have pride wearing Valpo across their chest, and guys who are close to us are going to have a little more pride,” Coach Powell says. “Their families are going to be coming to games, media outlets will remember them, their fans are going to know their names, so that’s a big part of my strategy.”

It’s not just new talent that’s going to drive the program forward as Coach Powell’s time at Valpo gets started. Returning players are excited to be part of this new chapter as well.

“I think that a lot of the guys who we have returning have a chip on their shoulder. They want to experience winning, and I think that’s going to be something that we’re going to see as we get on the court,” Coach Powell says.

I want to make a run in the NCAA tournament. I want to create some of those experiences for our community and our city and let our fans go to these NCAA sites and experience that feeling.

Roger Powell Jr.
men's basketball coach

Photo by Matthew Gilson

The Coaching Staff

Creating a talented roster of coaches has been a key part of Coach Powell’s vision, and he had very specific goals in mind when it came to who he selected and the experiences he wanted to bring to the program.

“I wanted to hire a former head coach, and that was Pat Baldwin,” he says. “He was a coach at Milwaukee, but he’s been at multiple places in the Missouri Valley and was at Northwestern when they made the NCAA tournament for the first time. Some of those experiences that he’s had are things I want to do here.”

Coach Baldwin, a native of Leavenworth, Kansas, played professionally in Bosnia and Croatia before becoming a coach. He spent his previous basketball season as an assistant coach under Patrick Ewing at Georgetown, and has also worked under Chris Collins at Northwestern. During his time at Milwaukee, the Panthers were among the NCAA’s leaders in free-throw percentage, nearly setting a program record at .746 in the 2018–2019 season.

Another incoming coach joining the Valpo staff is former assistant coach at Loyola University Chicago, Matt Gordon. He played a key role in the turnaround that saw the Ramblers post a 156-80 record during his seven years in the position. He was part of the first Final Four berth that the university had seen in 45 years in the 2017–2018 season and coached three Missouri Valley Conference Players of the Year.

“I was thankful I was able to find someone like that and he was willing to come and join me,” Coach Powell says.

Indiana University great A.J. Moye is another selection bringing a new perspective to Coach Powell’s coaching staff. A well-known player in the area, Coach Moye has played in the Final Four and was part of Bob Knight’s final recruiting class, becoming a standout with the Hoosiers in 2000–2004. He has since played professionally in Germany, Finland, and Iceland where he has attained multiple MVP and All-Star accolades.

“A.J. Moye is a former player, played at Indiana, and is very well-known by people in the state. From a recruiting standpoint, he’s really going to be able to help us,” Coach Powell says.

The variety of playing and coaching perspectives and successes will play a major role in shaping the future of the Valpo program into a legacy of success while giving players an environment where they can be inspired to thrive.

“My coaching staff, their relationships, and their ability to mentor young men, were all things I was really focused on,” Coach Powell says. “I think they’re really going to be able to give our players the knowledge and expertise they need. This staff here at Valpo has four Final Fours on it. You look at that winning pedigree, and that’s something I want to bring here.”

Photo by Matthew Gilson

Remembering the Legacy

The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team wouldn’t be where it is today without the hard work and dedication of its great alumni, and that’s something that Coach Powell wants to recognize. He and Director Small have been working hard to bring those former players to campus and get involved with the current team.

“We’ve had numerous players come back, talk to the team, and watch practice,” Coach Powell says. “I’ve had some of those guys come to my house for dinner. I think engaging with those guys, having them back and connecting with the team, that’s huge. Charles and I talk about that from a basketball standpoint, but we have an open-door policy with these guys that played here, had success, and want to be part of the program.”

Director Small shared a number of new and updated events that he believes will foster a stronger connection between today’s program and the players that have come before.

“One of the things we’re going to have this year is an All-Sports Reunion at one of the basketball games,” Director Small says. “We’re also going to move the Hall of Fame ceremony around that event, and we’re going to have a letter jacket ceremony. When our current students get their letter jackets, there’s going to be a hall of famer or former student athlete giving them that jacket. It’s going to be a way to recognize the past but also make that connection between our current athletes and our history.”

Those connections will help student-athletes appreciate the legacy they’ve become part of. Many former Valpo players have gone to see tremendous professional success in a variety of fields, and that success can serve as an inspiration for current students as they look toward their futures.

“It’s a great experience for them to understand the network that they’re a part of now,” Director Small says. “You have all these athletic greats, but you also have industry leaders and people doing these great things in society. That is a development piece that we will definitely push.”

For players, fans, and the future of Valpo Athletics, Director Small encourages all alumni to be involved with their old team.

“We need them. We’re dedicated to our current student-athletes flourishing, and our alumni are such a big resource,” says Director Small. “We’re in this together and we need our alumni to support us in any way that we can while they celebrate their accomplishments. Valpo’s brand is so strong in part because there are so many people out there in society doing great things.”

Bringing Excitement to the Fans

Valpo fans heading to games this year will notice more than just a new head coach. Significant upgrades to the Athletics-Recreation Center (ARC) include a new video board, replacing static signs with screens, and a dynamic lighting system that will bring an electric new environment to games.

“We’re going to be able to do some new things and have new settings for intros,” says Director Small. “It will also be much brighter with the LED lights.”

Director Small is preparing a new marketing and promotion plan that will ensure everyone knows when Valpo teams are playing at home, and he is taking significant steps to get his coaches out into the community. The first Coaches Tour took place this past July, and fans got a chance to hear from Valpo Athletics leaders and connect with them across the Region.

“Over time, I think that engagement is going to play out well for us because people will feel connected to our programs,” says Director Small. “We’re making sure that when the fans come back, their experience is improved. It’s going to be great for our fans and our student-athletes.”

As the season approaches and anticipation builds, Coach Powell has just one thing to say to Valpo fans:

“Let’s go. It’s time to get ready for this ride, and we’re going to make you proud. Let’s do this together.”

Let’s go. It’s time to get ready for this ride, and we’re going to make you proud. Let’s do this together.

Roger Powell Jr.
men's basketball coach

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