Story by Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) Athletics
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. - NAIA men’s basketball has its newest member of the 700-win club. Olivet Nazarene University’s (Ill.) Ralph Hodge is joining only five other active NAIA coaches that have reached the career plateau. Hodge accomplished the mark with a win over Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference opponent Purdue University-Calumet (Ind.) on Saturday afternoon (Feb. 1). The Tigers defeated the Peregrines 92-82 on the road to move into a tie for first place in the CCAC South Division.
The Tigers (11-11, 9-4) used a 13-point first half lead, their largest of the game, to get things started as Aaron Larson (Tolono, Ill.) poured in 18 points in the first segment, converting on 8-of-12 shots. Olivet Nazarene led only 45-40 at the break as Purdue-Calumet (16-7, 8-5) closed the final 3:31 of the half on a 15-8 run. The Peregrines scored 10 points from the free-throw in the first half, but were plagued with 10 turnovers leading to 12 Olivet Nazarene points.
In the second half Olivet Nazarene built their lead to 12-points only 1:42 into the half, but by the 9:33 mark Purdue-Calumet closed the gap to 65-61 after two Roddy Richardson free-throws. Again, the Tigers went on a 10-2 spurt that would allow them to keep the Peregrines at arm’s length as they led 75-63. The closest that Purdue-Calumet would get over the final seven minutes would be six points (86-80) after a Noah Allen steal, but ONU’s Zach Wagner (Roselle, Ill.) scored the Tigers’ final six points to seal the win.
Sophomore Aaron Larson scored a career-high 30 points on 12-of-19 field goals and Zach Wagner finished 9-of-13, good for a career-high 23 points. Senior Tony Banks (Peoria, Ill.) finished with his first career double-double, scoring 11 points and dishing out 10 assists.
Head coach Ralph Hodge commented on his 700th career win, “great win today by a determined, hard-working group of guys, just like it has been throughout all the rest.”
For the past 35 seasons Ralph Hodge has manned the sidelines as the head coach of the Olivet Nazarene University men’s basketball team. Throughout 1,131 games (700-431, .619) as the Tigers’ lead man, Hodge has accomplished much including his induction as a member of the 2013-14 NAIA Hall of Fame class. He, alongside Ben Zobrist, is the first to be inducted from Olivet Nazarene University.
Coach Hodge has achieved much since 1979, making a name by winning on and off the court. He has led 16 teams to national tournament appearances, the most by any team from Illinois. On 11 different occasions he led his team to Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) regular season championships and to five CCAC Tournament titles. Prior to membership in the CCAC, Hodge and the Tigers won four Northern Illinois Intercollegiate Conference (NIIC) championships and also won four NAIA District 20 titles.
In order to make to 700, wins have to come in hordes, and Hodge has done so winning 20-plus games 25 times, averaging over 20 wins per year in his career. He did it 15 straight seasons from 1989 and 2003, which included the Tigers only NAIA Final Four appearance (2000) and two NAIA Elite Eight finishes in 2002 and 2003. The Tigers reached another Elite Eight in 2006.
Throughout his career, Hodge coached some of the best players that played in the CCAC and NAIA. Hodge has coached a total of 84 All-CCAC players (started voting in 1987) and six CCAC Player of the Year winners. Along with the program’s leading scorer, Zach Freeman, who was a NAIA First Team All-American in 2002 and second team selection in 2001, Hodge has coached six other all-Americans, three of which were multiple year honorees. There have also been eight Tigers named NAIA Honorable Mention All-Americans. In addition to his own number, Hodge has coached the three other Tigers who have their numbers retired (Jeff Prather, Corey Zink, Zach Freeman).
Coach Hodge’s teams have also achieved off the court. All but one of coach Hodge’s four-year players has graduated. His outstanding leadership can also point to his team’s focus on their academic pursuits. Since 2000, the men’s basketball team has had 25 named NAIA Scholar-Athletes.
Throughout his 35-year career Ralph Hodge has been recognized for his achievements, the ways he has impacted his program and the game of basketball. He is a nine-time CCAC Coach the Year recipient and won the award for NAIA District 20 in 1989. Hodge was inducted into the CCAC Hall of Fame in 2002,Illinois Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA) Hall of Fame in 2004, awarded the NAIA’s Charles A. Kriegel Award for Sportsmanship (2002), named the IBCA-NAIA Co-Coach of the Year (2010 and 2011) , the 2008 Daily-Journal (Kankakee) Sports Citizen of the Year and was NAIA national rater for CCAC Division I for 15 years.
Quote from ONU Director of Athletics, Gary Newsome:
“It’s very rare in today’s coaching world to see someone who has dedicated their life to the coaching profession for 30-plus years. I have been fortunate to observe his practices and games. Coach Hodge demands perfection and in turn gets perfection in every drill, every rep. Coach knows what it takes to win today. He believes in his young men and gets the most out of them, thus, 700 wins. I’m proud to be associated with Coach Hodge, proud to be his friend and colleague. Waiting for number 800.”
Quote from ONU men’s basketball assistant coach, Nick Birkey:
“Throughout my ten years with coach Hodge I have been apart of numerous victories and witnessed many accomplishments, but winning 700 games speaks to his model of consistency as a leader and mentor. Coach has never missed an opportunity to teach a player or coach because he believes thoroughly in development, preparation and helping individuals reach their potential; and honestly, he is the best I’ve seen at doing so.”
“It has been a true honor and privilege to work alongside him and learn from a coach who truly cares about family, his players, coaches, the university and respects the game of basketball. Not to forget, he has done it the right way, leading as a man of faith in all he does. Congratulations Coach, you deserve it!”
Quote from ONU men’s basketball alum and assistant coach, Antonio Marshall:
“700 wins!!! Such an amazing accomplishment.as a player, I was blessed to have a coach that pushed me day in and day out. The lessons I learned on the basketball court have and will continue to help me in life. Coach Hodge's passion and determination for the game of basketball, his players, and coaches elevated my college basketball experience and more importantly, changed my life.”
“As a coach I'm honored to be a part of such an amazing feet. I'm blessed to help coach with, be shaped and mentored by Coach Hodge. Congratulations Coach.”