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Ralph Hodge reaches 700th victory as Olivet Nazarene coach

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Updated: March 8, 2014 6:16AM

Olivet Nazarene has been a special place for Ralph Hodge. But then Hodge has been a special person for the Bourbonnais school as a player, graduate assistant and — for 35 years — coach of the men’s basketball team.

On Saturday, NAIA Hall of Famer Hodge and the Tigers (12-11, 10-4) reached a milestone in a 92-82 victory against Purdue-Calumet. It was Olivet Nazarene’s 700th victory under Hodge, making him one of six active NAIA coaches to reach that level.

“It’s been a great place to be part of as a player, and then to come back and be part of a basketball program that has continued to grow over the years,” Hodge said. “It’s just been a great experience for me and a great journey.”

As a player, Hodge scored 2,449 points, a school record until 2002 when it was broken by two-time NAIA All-American Zach Freeman. Hodge spent one season as a graduate assistant before coaching for three years at AlWood (Ill.) High School. In 1979, he became the third head coach in Tigers history and launched a career full of highlights.

Under Hodge, Olivet Nazarene reached the NAIA Final Four in 2000 and the final eight in 2002 and 2003. The Tigers have won 11 CCAC regular-season championships and six conference tournaments since the league began in 1987, and before that they won four NIIC and four NAIA District 20 titles. Hodge has coached 15 All-Americans, 84 All-CCAC players and six CCAC players of the year.

“Obviously the Final Four team sticks out,” Hodge said. “We had a good team. We were lacking a little depth, but they battled a lot like every team has to. It was not an easy journey. They had to battle through some adversity, and when we got to the national tournament we played our best ball.

“Some teams didn’t have all of the pieces and yet found a way to win. I think that’s been the neat part of coaching. There’s been a few things lacking, but they always found that special thing to win that made those wins possible.”

This year’s Tigers are young and have only one senior starter. The leader is Aaron Larson, a 6-7 sophomore who was named CCAC player of the week after scoring 30 points against Purdue-Calumet two nights after putting up 25 points and 13 rebounds against Trinity Christian.

“He just does everything for us, really,” Hodge said.

With their youth, the ­Tigers are learning the lessons of ­perseverance that have sustained Hodge’s teams.

“Obviously in coaching, as in other professions, there are ups and downs, and we’ve had some great seasons. We’ve had some other seasons that haven’t been as good as what we wanted.

“But it’s just getting back up, strapping on the shoes and getting back out there with a goal and purpose in mind. I think that’s made the years go by so fast and it’s made the games go by so fast.”

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