SHARE
Pro­fessor of History Mark Kalthoff ‘84 was part of the 1980 – 81 Hillsdale men’s bas­ketball team. Courtesy | Mark Kalthoff
Peter Kalthoff shoots a free throw during a home game in January. Courtesy | Anthony Lupi

The 120-year history of the Hillsdale College Men’s Bas­ketball program has been eventful to say the least. For eight years, the archives list the team’s head coach as simply “stu­dents.” In 1943 – 44, the team had no season due to World War II. The program once even went seven straight years without a single win. But Hillsdale College Men’s Bas­ketball has never seen a team quite like this year’s.

For starters, the team set the school record for both winning per­centage in a season, and winning per­centage during con­ference play, with a 21 – 3, and 20 – 1 record respectively. 

Their record won them the G‑MAC regular season title, their first out­right crown in the program’s short history in the conference. 

The team’s 17-game win streak was the longest in school history, and left Davis Larson with a James Harden-esque beard. In fact, the team was a half-court buzzer-beater away from going unde­feated in the regular season for the first time ever.

If that wasn’t enough, the Chargers also won their first NCAA tour­nament game in 20 years, and made it to the tournament’s Sweet 16 for the first time in program history. 

Sophomore forward Patrick Cartier won G‑MAC Player of the Year, becoming only the fourth player in program history to receive a con­ference POTY award and the first to do it in the G‑MAC. He was also selected to the National Asso­ci­ation of Bas­ketball Coaches’ NCAA Division II All-American team, becoming the first player in program history to make such a team.

The team’s head coach, John Tharp, was named both G‑MAC Coach of the Year (for the second year in a row), and the Atlantic Region’s COTY. He is now the only coach in team history with mul­tiple con­ference COTY awards.

If the countless awards and records didn’t make it clear, this team was loaded with talent. 

Cartier, the team’s best player, sits at the top of the record books with the program’s highest career field goal per­centage all-time. Standing at 6’8, 220, Tharp’s “big guy” has quick feet and an elite set of post moves that helped him dom­inate on the low block all year long.

Next to him in the front court was fellow G‑MAC All-Con­ference First Team player, 6’8 forward Austen Yarian. A true do-it-all forward, at 35% from behind the arc, big opposing men could do little to guard Yarian’s decep­tively quick handles and elite outside shooting.

Tavon Brown, the third 6’8 player in Hillsdale’s starting lineup made the conference’s all-defensive team for a reason, as the X‑factor “small” forward could guard one through five with ease. He was the anchor of a Hillsdale team that ranked sixth nationally in scoring defense.

The starting back­court of Larson and senior Connor Hill both made the G‑MAC All-Con­ference Second Team. Larson could create off the dribble in any sit­u­ation, and ranked fourth in program history in career three-point per­centage, drilling more than 40% of his outside shots.

Hill was in a league of his own in many respects. Tharp spelled it out in simple terms, “he’s the heart and soul of our team.” Hill also has a pull-up game that Tharp called one of the best he’s ever seen, and was a dime-machine, setting up team­mates with seem­ingly impos­sible passes all game, every game.

Now, every good team needs a good bench, and an all-time great team needs one all the more. Enter players Kyle Goessler, Cole Nau, Peter Kalthoff, Noah Applegate, and Jack Gohlke. Their stats don’t look all that impressive on paper, but their con­tri­bution to the team was invaluable nonetheless.

Tharp seemed to get every last drop of talent on the roster to fit together per­fectly on the court, even if it required a fiery half-time speech or a couple choice words.

Throughout the program’s long history, only one other team stands out as a con­tender for the title of “best ever,” the 1980 – 81 team.

They went 23 – 5 in the regular season, and won the regular season GLIAC title. Their crowning achievement, though, was making the NAIA (an equiv­alent to the NCAA) tour­nament final four. Though the tour­nament only fea­tured 32 teams, their run of three-straight tour­nament wins is by far the longest in the program’s history. 

The 80 – 81 roster was loaded with talent as well. It fea­tured three All-Amer­icans and four players that would go on to score more than 1,400 career points. Our very own dean of faculty, Mark Kalthoff, was a freshman on that team.

“The real reason com­paring the two is such a tough call is that the game has changed a great deal over the past four decades and the two respective seasons were dif­ferent,” Kalthoff said. “In some ways it’s like com­paring apples and oranges.”

Kalthoff pointed out that during their season, there was no shot clock, no three-point line, and they played 11 more games than the 20 – 21 team. Going back 40 years, the game of bas­ketball has changed so much that it’s nearly impos­sible to make any real comparison.

“I’m honored to say that I was a member of the best team my college had seen up to that time,” Kalthoff said. “Now these guys can enjoy the right to make the same claim for themselves.”

 

Christian Peck-Dimit is a sophomore studying English.