The huge dry-erase board in Newman athletic director Vic Trilli’s office is perhaps the most telling thing. It takes up almost his entire west wall and has been rewired to serve as the master calendar for everything to do with the Jets and their teams.
All 12 months are mapped out with the start of physicals, practices, game dates, meetings and even Trilli’s 40th anniversary to his wife, Kathryn, which is approaching fast.
Everything is color-coded. Looking at it for too long might give you a headache.
It is also the most sure-fire indicator of where the Jets want to go under Trilli, who enters his fifth year with a clear objective for the NCAA Division II school.
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“I want us to be elite,” Trilli said. “And a lot of things are falling into place to make us that elite program. I think we have our own niche.”
Newman heads into a new school year coming off an unprecedented run of success for its centerpiece program, men’s basketball. Six of its teams were in the national rankings last year and there’s a possible major conference move on the horizon.
The Jets were ranked nationally in men’s basketball for the first time — spending five weeks in the top 25 — and made it to the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time, where they lost in the first round. Newman also swept the four other NCAA Division II teams in Kansas — Emporia State, Fort Hays State, Pittsburg State and Washburn — capping off the run with a home win over Washburn when the Ichabods were ranked second nationally.
It’s opened up new doors for Trilli and longtime coach Mark Potter in terms of fundraising, scholarships and talent.
“I think two things have helped, and the first is money ... just being able to offer a young man the opportunity to come play college basketball and get an education without having to shell out a considerable amount of money,” Potter said. “The other thing is that recruits, now that we’ve solidified our status as an NCAA school, they listen to you more. When we were NAIA, some of the recruits would just tune us out ... this just seems more official to them.”
Trilli also managed to keep Potter despite overtures from Emporia State and Pittsburg State over the last three years, thanks in part to a boost in scholarships, facilities and a five-year contract with Adidas.
“I can’t lie to people when they call,” Trilli said. “He’d be an amazing hire. We are so thankful to have him here and for the bond he has with the community. I think the other teams can stand alone with their success, but basketball is big in this town ... just look at Wichita State and the following they have.”
Newman has been a member of the Heartland Conference — a 13-team league with schools in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas — since 2006, when the Jets began a two-year probationary move to Division II. After a preliminary meeting this summer, league officials will meet again at the end of September to discuss the possibility of joining with the 11-team Lone Star Conference to form a super conference.
The Lone Star has Cameron (Okla.), Eastern New Mexico and nine Texas schools.
“It’s something I want to learn more about, definitely,” Trilli said. “There are a lot of questions, obviously, like how a non-football conference like ours fits with one that has football, which funds a lot of things for (the Lone Star). And are we joining them or are they joining us? There’s a lot to still learn but I think we’re all open to listening. To me, that’s all progress.”
Trilli turns 61 in September and has worked with a series of one-year contracts. He’s asked Newman for a long-term deal but nothing is in place yet.
“(The contract) is something I’ve worked on, and I could be perfectly happy retiring here,” said Trilli, who was an assistant men’s basketball coach at Texas and head coach at North Texas from 1997 to 2001. “I’m just like everybody else where I have a one-year deal, but I would love (Newman) to say, ‘Here’s a three-year or a five-year contract,’ but that hasn’t happened yet. Sometimes change is a good word. Sometimes it’s the best word.”