By Jeff Robison Flyer Correspondent
Hendricks County Flyer
---- — For basketball fans in the United States, March has become synonymous with the thrills of tournament excitement as high schools and colleges take their seasons to the crescendo and award championship titles.
While the NCAA tournament may have top billing, former Danville Warrior Jordan Weidner and his fellow Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats made the most of their version of March Madness by winning the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball national championship on March 18 at College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo.
IWU came into Missouri as the fifth-seeded team out of 32, but swept through its five opponents by no less than 10 points. Its closest game came in the title contest, where the Wildcats defeated 10th-seeded Midland (Neb.), 78-68.
It was Weidner, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, who proved the difference-maker. He led IWU with 21 points in the championship game and was named outstanding player for the tournament. Most recently, Weidner was also named NAIA D-II First Team All-American, capping off a golden exit to his college playing days.
“This was probably one of the most fun weeks of my life,” Weidner said. “We just came together well and played great team basketball. This has been one of the most rewarding moments of my life. With all of the effort and time put it, and (to win) in my last go-round has been a dream.”
Weidner finished out his college career atop the NAIA world. He led IWU to its first-ever national title by averaging 23 points while hitting 51.4 percent from the field. He also pulled down 4.4 rebounds and dished 5.6 assists in five tournament contests.
IWU coach Greg Tonagel was quick to salute Weidner for helping take his team to the summit.
“Jordan has pretty much been the heart and soul of our team for the last four years,” Tonagel said. “He is such a competitor and has a huge will. He gives his teammates a lot of confidence, and we saw that every single game in the national tournament.”
Along the way, Weidner had a career day as he delivered 35 points and 12 assists in q quarterfinal win over Friends (Kan.).
“The thing that has changed the most about my game has been my ability to pass,” Weidner said. “I have really grown to love passing and distributing the ball. I was fortunate to have (Tonagel) as my coach. He is extremely competitive, and we relate and work so well together. I am not sure I could have developed so much anywhere else.”
Weidner didn’t have to go it alone. Second Team All-American RJ Mahurin, a 6-foot-8 post player from Rockville, transferred from Indiana State and ruled the paint for the Wildcats. Other key cogs included junior defender Zac Vandewater (Whitko), junior guard DJ Bettinger (Richfield, Ohio) and freshmen Lane Mahurin (RJ’s brother), Nate Bubash (Munster) and Bob Peters (Cayahoga Falls, Ohio).
“We were one of the highest-scoring teams in the nation, but we were able to put the defensive aspect with it, and that really sealed the deal for us,” Weidner said.
Tonagel called it a special group, especially for the way it celebrated its finest hour.
“I will always remember after we won and they were celebrating, they stopped and formed a circle for a prayer. That really impressed me that this team kept everything in perspective.”
Before nationals, IWU was considered a contender, but not the dominant favorite to win it all.
The Wildcats entered the tournament with extra incentive. Weidner felt a loss to Bethel in the Crossroads Conference tourney spurred him and his teammates a little further.
“We lost at home to Bethel in an overtime game,” Weidner said. “That was a huge moment for us because we knew that was the last we could have all year. That loss really got the guys motivated.”
Graduation looms in the near future, but Weidner admits he is not ready to give up basketball. He’s seeking a chance to play overseas, and eyes coaching as a long-term goal.
“I want to play overseas as long as I can. I am just not ready to give up the game just yet,” Weidner said. “I am in the process of looking for agents and feeling that process out. But, when my playing career is done, I definitely want to come back and be a coach someday. After 20 years of playing, I do not ever see myself being away from the game.”