Gibsonburg native and former Valparaiso standout guard Jake Diebler has a prep and college basketball resume that most players would kill to have.
Diebler, the son of Genoa boys coach Keith Diebler, set the state’s all-time single-season and career assist mark during his four years (2001-05) at Upper Sandusky High School. He also had more career steals than any schoolboy in Ohio history.
Diebler teamed with his younger brother, Jon, to lead Upper Sandusky to the Division II state championship in 2005 before moving on to a terrific four-year career at Valpo, located in Valparaiso, Ind.
Diebler started every one of the Crusaders’ 98 games over the final three seasons of his career, finishing 10th in school history with 130 career steals and 16th all-time with 229 career assists. He is now in his second season as an assistant at Valpo under head coach Bryce Drew, the 2011-12 Horizon League Coach of the Year.
Last Tuesday the Crusaders (26-7) beat Wright State 62-54 for the Horizon League tournament title to advance to the NCAA Tournament on Thursday against Michigan State in Auburn Hills, Mich. Valpo, which went 13-3 in the Horizon this season, will take a six-game winning streak into its first NCAA Tournament game since 2004.
“It’s truly a blessing to be a part of the tournament this year,” said Diebler, 26, who is in his fourth year as a member of Valpo’s coaching staff. “It has been a dream of mine to participate in the greatest sporting event of the year, and to finally be doing that is really special. I had the opportunity to share in my brother's (Jon) experience at Ohio State, and although I will never forget what it felt like watching him play, it’s certainly different when you are preparing for the game yourself.”
Jake attended Gibsonburg Schools through seventh grade, when his father moved the family to Fostoria after taking the head coaching gig at Fostoria High. The Dieblers soon moved to Upper Sandusky, where Keith, Jake and Jon won a state title in 2005. The Rams, minus Jake, who had graduated, lost by two points in the 2007 state title game.
Given that his father has been a coach for decades, it was probably only natural that Jake would go into coaching. Jake, however, said that wasn’t necessarily the case.
“I didn’t anticipate going into coaching until the middle of my sophomore year (at Valpo),” he said. “My dad has had a major influence in my life. His drive and determination to help me be the best player, leader and person I can be ultimately led me to following in his footsteps. He gave me opportunities at a very early age to be a leader on the basketball court, and I think that only naturally led me into coaching.”
Keith, who was there when Valpo beat Wright State for the Horizon title last Tuesday, admitted he “absolutely” gets nervous when he attends Valparaiso games.
“When I quit getting nervous about coaching and watching games, I’m done,” Keith said. “Basketball is a passion in this family. We touch base a lot. Jake probably gives me more advice than I give him. When Jake played for me he was like a coach on the floor. He’s grown up in it. He’ll call and ask a couple things, but I bounce a couple things off him for myself because I respect him that much. He provides a great resource now at the college level.”
Jake said he “loves” working for coach Drew, the most decorated player in Valpo history. Drew is best known nationally for his game-winning shot against heavily-favored Ole Miss in the opening round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament. With seconds to play, Drew caught a tip pass from teammate Bill Jenkins off a full-court feed from Jamie Skyes to beat Ole Miss at the buzzer. It was the Crusaders’ inaugural NCAA Tournament victory and helped propel them to the Sweet 16.
“Not a day goes by where I don't love going to work in the morning, and that is a direct reflection on the type of culture he creates here,” Diebler said. “He also has one of the best basketball minds in the business, and working with him on a daily basis has expanded my knowledge for the game immensely.”
Diebler said he had aspirations of becoming a businessman after graduating with a degree from Valpo in 2009.
“God quickly humbled me and brought me back to my roots,” he said. “I studied marketing as an undergrad and finished with my MBA, but hopefully those simply serve as backup plans. I have seen basketball's ability to serve as a communication platform for people all over the world. I would love to continue coaching and one day have an opportunity to lead a program to a national title.”
Diebler said there are days he wishes he was still playing basketball.
“It depends on the day,” he said. “I miss the competitive nature of being on the court. As a coach, it seems like you have a lot less control than as a player. What I don’t miss is my body and the soreness I felt after playing. I had a habit of playing recklessly, to put it nicely, and my body took the brunt of that. It still takes a while to get out of bed in the morning. I definitely don’t miss that feeling. Coaching is much easier on the body.”