Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Kowalczyk turns culture around at UT



This is too often a bad-news business. The good news sometimes gets overlooked.

For example, in 2013, March was more Maddening than Madness at the University of Toledo, as the men’s basketball team was deemed ineligible for postseason play due to deficiencies in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR). That story drew plenty of headlines, many inches of type, and lots of airtime.


A mere 16 months later, a significant piece of good news went virtually ignored last week.


UT was one of just 30 Division I men’s teams — and there are about 350 of them — to be presented with the Team Academic Excellence Award by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.


Rocket fans know well what head coach Tod Kowalczyk has done in a four-year stretch on the court, winning four games during his first season and a school-record 27 in 2013-14.


The Rockets, however, have accompanied that dizzying ride with some remarkable progress off the court, as well.


In the recent spring semester, the men’s basketball team compiled a 3.053 grade point average. Nine players scored 3.0 or better and two of them, graduating senior Rian Pearson and freshman Jordan Lauf, qualified for the dean’s list.


UT was honored by the NABC for their 3.0-plus GPA along with schools like Bucknell, Dartmouth, Florida, Gonzaga, Lehigh, Stanford, and Yale, to alphabetically drop a few names. UT was the only Mid-American Conference men’s team to receive the award — there were no Big Ten teams — and one of just two Ohio schools on the list, joining Youngstown State.


The APR, meanwhile, is a rather complicated formula that calculates eligibility, retention, and advancement toward a degree. It is a rolling, four-year scoring average that caught up with UT, which once sunk as low as 813 in one school year. Going through a four-year stretch with three different head coaches made some of the retention issues predictable. Toledo’s most recent APR score was 944, a vast improvement albeit still short of great. Kowalczyk vowed Tuesday that edging towards a perfect score of 1,000 remains his goal.


“When I got here the culture in every respect was nowhere near acceptable,” Kowalczyk said. “That was particularly the case academically. Success in the classroom and graduating is the No. 1 priority. I promise recruits two things. First, you’ll get a degree from a great school. Second, you’ll get better as a basketball player every day. Those are the two things I can control.”


TK credits recruiting “good guys from good families who understand the value of a degree” as the first key to success. The rest of the credit for UT’s awakening, he said, goes to his assistant coaches and to academic adviser Sue Irmen.


So, which was the greater accomplishment, 27 wins or the Team Academic Excellence Award?


“I don’t know that answer,” Kowalczyk said. “I do know that I take greater pride in academic performance and graduating players than I do in wins and losses. I’d like to think our players’ experiences here will be about lots of things… hanging banners, camaraderie, ESPN games, postseason tournaments. But, ultimately, what matters is a degree and being prepared for future success.”


Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: or 419-724-6398.

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