John Mutka: Brad Karp closing in on St. Xavier men’s basketball career scoring record
In 48 years of coaching — the past 17 at St. Xavier — Tom O’Malley boiled down his basketball philosophy to two sentences: Coaches coach. Players play.
“They deserve the credit,” said O’Malley, who has guided the Cougars to more than 400 victories and 11 appearances in the NAIA nationals. “It’s rewarding. All the good people I’ve been involved with.”
None more so than Brad Karp, a can’t-miss guard from Valparaiso. Label him the one who got away. Barely recruited elsewhere, he quickly ascended to superstar level.
Karp ranks among the top 10 all-time Illinois small-college scorers with 2,476 points to his name. Seldom taking a bad shot, he’s connected on better than 56 percent of his shots for the last three years.
When O’Malley first recruited Karp in high school he couldn’t believe his good fortune. Watching him play four times confirmed his impression.
“I was surprised that no Division I team invited him to be a preferred walk-on,” O’Malley said in a phone interview hours before the Cougars walloped Bellevue to win their Midwest tournament. “I thought he could be an inside-outside player for us.”
That he is, striking a fine balance. The two-time All-American needs only 68 points to surpass SXU career leader Mike Walaszek, who scored 2,517 points from 1974 through ’78. Karp is leading the Cougars in scoring and rebounding for the fourth straight year.
Pounding the boards is what he enjoys the most. He routinely chalks up double-doubles and is averaging 8.4 rebounds.
“Especially the offensive boards because it’s so physical,” he said. “It’s what I live for.”
Karp inherited that aggressive streak from his father (Dave), who played football at Hobart. His mother (Teresa) ran cross country at Chesterton.
Shoot threes, drive, defending (he leads the Cougars in steals) ... all that creates a complete player.
“Lately I’ve been shooting more threes, but I’ll take whatever the defense gives me,” he said. “Being 6-5 gives me some mismatches. I’ll take a smaller defender to the post. If a bigger kid guards me I’ll take him outside, then shoot or drive.”
St. Xavier is 13-2, with one of its losses being 82-74 to Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference rival Cardinal Stritch, the defending national champion.
“Our starting guard (Jeff Krieger) was out that game with an ACL injury,” Karp said. “He’s back now and playing well.”
Krieger scored 21 against Bellevue in the tournament championship game, which raises hopes of squaring the series with Cardinal Stritch in February, especially since the Cougars lose at home about as often as the Cubs win a division title.
Homecourt advantages don’t generally mean much at commuter colleges, where games are often played before rows of empty seats, but the Cougars are 54-5 in Karp’s four years at St. Xavier. Their only loss at Shannon Center in the last two seasons was to Cardinal Stritch.
“Our enrollment is 5,000, but only a thousand or so live on campus,” Karp said. “It’s not like high school (emotionally) but you learn to live with that. You’re playing for the team.
“You don’t need a big fan base to get you going, just the 12 guys in the locker room. So, it’s weird that for some reason home court plays a big role in our record.”
Modesty aside, so does Karp.
Most coaches are reluctant to single out individuals, but O’Malley makes an exception for Karp.
Asked how he compares with other greats he has coached, O’Malley said, “It’s like comparing apples and oranges. We’ve had a lot of really good ones, but he’s probably the premier player for his size.”
Karp’s willingness to self-correct perceived shortcomings is impressive.
“He’s insatiable.” O’Malley said. “He’ll do whatever it takes to improve his game. He’ll work overtime on it.”
Like free throws, for instance. Unhappy with his effort at the line — he’s shooting 70 percent for the year — Karp bounced back with 14 in a row against St. Ambrose in the semifinals.
St. Xavier ports information director Robert Huizenga is impressed with Karp’s work ethic as well as his humility.
“He always goes that extra mile to improve his game,” Huizenga said. “What a role model he is for young athletes everywhere.”
O’Malley echoes the sentiments.
“He’s a great player, but an even better kid,” he said.
Karp is averaging 28.1 points and 8.4 rebounds. He is shooting .617 from the field.
By the way, the biology major also is an Academic All-American.