It's easy to look at the number of 81 and assess that the Fort Wayne men's basketball program was pretty good over the four-year period that began with the 2012-13 season. That is how many games that the Mastodons won, as they advanced to the postseason three times in that span. However, a more impressive number is 990, and not just numerically. That is the Academic Progress Rate that the program maintained in the classroom under former coach Tony Jasick, as well as current coach Jon Coffman, who was the top assistant to Jasick before taking over the program.
The Mastodon men's basketball squad was one of 10 Fort Wayne athletic teams (baseball, men's and women's cross country, men's and women's golf, men's and women's volleyball, women's soccer and women's track and field) that were recently honored by the NCAA for their diligence in the classroom.
“Guys that are pros in the classroom,” Coffman explained to The News-Sentinel, “off the court, as well as on the court, those are the guys that improve the most over their four-year careers.”
Or five-year careers, in the case of most of Coffman's student-athletes.
Since taking over for Jasick three seasons ago, Coffman has placed an emphasis on getting as mature of a player – and person – as possible within his program. Of the 14 players that he'll have on the 2017-18 roster next season, 12 will have spent a year away from game competition developing their athletic ability, but also as a person and a student.
“I'm starting my 20th year of college coaching,” Coffman said, “and what I have found with my experience is that guys that act like pros off the court, in the classroom, as well as on the floor, with their work ethic, those are the guys that get better.”
No Mastodon player exemplified that more so than recent graduate Brent Calhoun.
Calhoun spent five years with the Fort Wayne program, but the first three were mere exhibitions of treading water, figuratively.
The Warren Central High School graduate allowed his game, his course work, and his life to drift aimlessly, before having a “come to Jon” meeting with Coffman following his redshirt sophomore season.
He responded with a renewed energy and focus in all aspects of his life and closed his career playing at a very high level, as well as earning a degree recently, a feat that wasn't assured a couple of years ago.
“We've redshirted a lot of guys in our program,” Coffman said, “… having 22-, 23-, or 24-year-old seniors, to have guys that have a maturity in their actions, as well as in their bodies, is something that I think translates to success.
“You look at what Brent Calhoun was able to do down the stretch of his (redshirt) senior year, if that was his junior year, that doesn't happen. He made himself a pro. He's going to be playing overseas next year, I have no doubt. That is because of that fifth year.”
— Jon Coffman (@coachcoffman) May 10, 2017
The Mastodons recorded an APR of 990 combined over the 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, and 2015- 16 seasons, while their 2015-16 score was 981.
Valparaiso was the only other NCAA Division I men's basketball program within Indiana to score better than Fort Wayne over the four seasons.
“The (players') dreams are realized,” Coffman said, “and their evolution as a player is realized because they aren't playing catch-up every single day. That is something that I pride myself in with our program. We attack the classroom with the same aggressiveness that we attack the basketball court.
“Our number one priority in our basketball program is academics, with basketball being a close second. I believe that there are three parts to college which are academics, basketball and social life, and I don't believe that you can excel at all three. You have to have two major priorities.”
It isn't public knowledge how the Fort Wayne players are doing socially, but Coffman, the university leadership, and the NCAA are monitoring the other two areas and it is clear that the Mastodon student-athletes are handling those areas just fine.
For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.