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Soaring With the Hawks

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IUP head coach Joe Lombardi has energized the basketball program, turning the Crimson Hawks into a bona fide national powerhouse.

The 2014-15 season may have ended on a sour note for Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s men’s basketball team, falling to Florida Southern in the Division II title game.

But for head coach Joe Lombardi, he feels he is in the right situation, on and off the court.

“(It has to do with) a great culture we have established here. Has a lot to do with hard work, has a lot to do with selflessness,” Lombardi said about his team’s run. “The sum of the whole was greater than the sum of the parts.”

Indiana has gone from pushover to Division II powerhouse under Lombardi’s leadership. After two losing seasons to open his career with the Crimson Hawks, Lombardi has pieced together seven straight winning campaigns, accumulating 185 wins in that time, and trips to the Sweet 16 in four of the last six years, including two appearances in the national championship game.

This season’s 31-7 record was the second highest win total in school history, and it marked the sixth straight year the Crimson Hawks finished the year ranked in the Top 25. Coming into the year, only two other teams had been in the top 25 over the last four years.

A big factor in Indiana’s maintained success lies in its ability to recruit.

“To stay competitive year after year on the national scene, a Division II program must attract Division I-type players,” Division II Bulletin Gary Rubin said.

Lombardi has not been afraid to look beyond western Pennsylvania and West Virginia to attract players. Of the 13 men of the 2014-15 roster, only two athletes were from the tristate area.

By comparison, a pair of redshirted freshmen, Nathan Lemke and Stefan Osborne, are originally from Australia.

“We don’t put any boundaries on ourselves,” Lombardi said. “We keep our eyes open and ears to the ground and try to identify the players who we think can play at a top 10 program in Division II.”

Lombardi also knows what it takes to coach at the Division I level, accumulating 21 years of experience in that class, including three at Pitt under Jamie Dixon. Despite finding success there, Lombardi did not have a hard time returning to Division II and Indiana in 2006, almost 20 years removed from his time as an assistant coach at the school from 1984-87.

“You get to a stage in life, and it’s not about divisions, it’s about coaching basketball. It becomes a quality of life decision,” Lombardi said. “What do you want to do with your life? What do you want to do with your career?”

For Lombardi, his goals changed, and he did not want to choose a school and job just for the money, but for the time to spend with his family and to be with the right club.

“You have time for relationships with your children. You have time for relationships with your wife. You have time for relationships with your friends. Those IUP Joe Lombardiare some things Division I coaches have to sacrifice,” Lomabrdi said. “It got to a point of time where I didn’t want to make (those sacrifices).”

As for next season, despite graduating three seniors, Lombardi feels he still has a core of players who can produce.

“Every team, every individual, has its own identity,” Lombardi said. “You try to find an identity for that group of young men and see if their talents mesh together and have similar type success.”

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