- Student Life
By Michael Lasquero. October 19, 2016 - 8:58 pm
As a successful runner on the Bethany College track team, where he earned All-American honors, Darren Vorderbruegge dreamed of coaching.
But not track. Vorderbruegge had hoop dreams.
“Coaching track was never my desire,” said Vorderbruegge, the Men’s Basketball coach at Hawaii Pacific University. “You don’t feel like you’re part of a team. I shouldn’t say that, but you don’t get the same feeling that you do from basketball.”
That cohesive nature that comes from a team has followed and defined his whole career, and even defines his upcoming season, his ninth as a coach at HPU. The steps that Vorderbruegge has taken to build the program are giving him high hopes for the season, which starts next month.
Vorderbruegge, 51, stresses the importance of interpersonal relationships between players and coaches, he said.
He requires his players to see him in his office at least once a week. The team puts the effort to celebrate each other’s birthdays. When practice is done, the conversation can often extend off the court.
“It’s not a strategy. Those type of things, it’s just (about) making time,” said Vorderbruegge.
That philosophy is paying off. The Sharks have bettered their win total in each of the last three years. In the 2013-14 season, the Sharks went 15-13 and picked up their first postseason NCAA Division II victory in school history. The next year, they went 16-11 and had a winning record in PacWest Conference play. Last season, the Sharks defeated three teams that were ranked in the top 20 nationally and finished with a 19-9 record, which were the most wins by the program since 1998.
The successes of the Sharks have not gone unnoticed.
“They’re always in tune with what’s going on in the court, and that’s a result of good coaching,” said Chaminade University Men’s Basketball head coach Eric Bovaird. “They’re always aware, they know what they’re doing and (each player) knows their role on the team.”
Vorderbruegge was born and raised in Wichita, Kan., before studying Secondary Education at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan. He played basketball early in his life — growing to 6-foot-4 before graduating high school — but his skills as a runner gave him a better chance at playing sports collegiately.
At Bethany, Vorderbruegge ran in the 400-meter and 110-meter hurdle races, and earned NAIA All-American honors by running the 4 x 400-meter relay.
“I had three really fast guys that ran the other three legs and that’s how I became an All-American,” he said. “I was very fortunate that we placed at the national meet in my junior year.”
In his senior year, Vorderbruegge earned the distinction of being an Academic All-American, but he also got a taste of coaching by serving as an assistant on the school’s women’s basketball team.
“Basketball and athletics played a tremendous impact in my life. I had a lot of positive experiences with coaches and being part of a team, and I knew early on that I wanted to give that a shot,” he said.
The experience served as a springboard for Vorderbruegge’s coaching career. By the time he arrived at HPU, he had nearly 20 years of coaching under his belt.
Vorderbruegge spent 13 years coaching prep basketball in Kansas before he became the associate head coach of the men’s basketball team at Northwest Missouri State University, where he helped the Bearcats advance twice to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division II tournament.
He first came to HPU in 2006 as the Men’s Basketball head coach, but split time as the interim athletic director during his inaugural season. Vorderbruegge continued to serve as coach and director for another year before taking a two-year hiatus to focus on leading the athletics department. He returned to the sidelines in 2010 and helped rebuild the men’s basketball program to where it is today.
“(Coach Vorderbruegge) has been a leader, not only on the court, but in the community,” said Vince Baldemor, Director of Athletics at HPU. “(He is) always approachable, he is a great listener and has the best interests of the students as a priority. We are lucky to have him as part of our ohana.”
Vorderbruegge is also the winningest men’s basketball coach in HPU’s NCAA history, and has recorded over 100 wins during his tenure.
The ninth-year HPU coach said not having the burden of being an athletic director has helped the men’s basketball program excel in recent years.
“I think I had spread myself a little too thin. I took the responsibilities of being an athletic director very seriously,” said Vorderbruegge.
Another reason why the Sharks have been trending upward can be attributed to how Vorderbruegge and his staff approach recruiting. He said the prospects that they scout have to be good basketball players first and foremost, but they also have to be a good student and a good person.
“People take it for granted, but we only recruit players that want to get their degrees. That’s important for us. Even at our level there are players all over who are only in school to play basketball,” said Vorderbruegge.
“We also want high-character individuals. We really made a commitment to get guys that are not a distraction and are serious about getting their degree, and I think it has been reflective in our play.”
An international affair
Sometimes those players are found outside of the U.S. Over the years the men’s basketball team has had players from Germany, England, Croatia, and more recently, Australia. Vorderbruegge said that having kids from all over the globe on the team heightens the college experience of his players.
“It exposes our team to different cultures.” he said. “HPU is a diverse place, and our basketball team is just as diverse. Basketball brings the guys together and tears down walls. It gives them that common interest and allows them to be friends.”
The Sharks also had a rare opportunity to participate in an international collegiate basketball tournament in Seoul, South Korea this summer. HPU represented the U.S. in the third-annual Asia-Pacific University Basketball Challenge and defeated teams from Chinese-Taipei, Japan, Russia and Korea, and was able to win the championship on July 4.
Vorderbruegge considers the trip to Seoul as his most memorable coaching moment at HPU. In addition to traveling to another country, Vorderbruegge got a head start in working with his players for the upcoming season.
“It was terrific for a couple of reasons,” he said. “This was the first time HPU has ever done it. Typically we can’t be with our team during the summer, but they make an exception if you travel internationally. We got to take the new players that we signed and they were able to meet our returnees. They got to know each other and develop a bond, and the best thing was we won this tournament and brought the gold home for America.”
With a tournament title already under the team’s belt, Vorderbruegge believes that his squad can go far this year.
“We have high expectations and we think we can make a difference this year. We’re really excited about the chance to finish high in the PacWest.”
Photos courtesy of HPU Athletics Department.