Medina High graduate Tony Stockman and wife Brittany took their starting five — sons Tayden, 14, Braysen, 11, and Maddox, 10, and daughters Mytae, 5, and Solae, 2 — on a new journey after an enjoyable and successful six years with the Ohio Christian University men’s basketball program.
Now the head coach at Columbia International University in South Carolina, Stockman and his family are still winning — on and off the court.
“When I came down on the visit (last spring), I was literally trying to find reasons not to come,” Stockman said Tuesday. “I called Brittany and said, ‘I can’t find anything.’”
Brittany and the boys lived in Brazil when Stockman was playing there professionally, then the family moved back to Medina for a brief time when he ended his playing career, then headed to Circleville when he took the head coaching job at Ohio Christian in 2012, so moving to South Carolina wasn’t exactly a shock.
“The kids were excited about it,” Stockman said. “The boys are outgoing, so they just said, ‘We’re used to moving and making new friends. Let’s go!’”
Now living in the South Carolina state capital, the Stockmans’ home is a 30-second walk from the Columbia International campus and a 3-minute walk from the gymnasium, not to mention a 1-hour, 45-minute drive from the Atlantic Ocean.
Brittany, also a Medina grad, works for the university from home as an online student recruiter. Braysen and Maddox, both very talented AAU players, take the bus home from school and frequently walk straight to the college gym to watch practice or play basketball.
“All that stuff just makes it a really good situation,” Stockman said.
The icing on the cake is that Columbia International is having a historic season. After going 7-23 in 2017-18, the Rams are 17-14 in Stockman’s first season and fresh off a National Christian College Athletic Association Division I Regional championship.
A Christian-based school with an enrollment of just over 1,000 students that was founded in 1923 but didn’t offer athletic programs until 2012, sixth-seeded CIU will make its first appearance in the NCCAA National Championships today when it plays No. 3 seed Hannibal-LaGrange (Mo.) University (18-11) in a quarterfinal matchup at 8:30 a.m.
That’s right, 8:30 a.m. The game is the first of four to be played today at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., which entailed a 12-hour bus ride for the Rams on Monday, when Stockman was unable to do a phone interview because he was busy giving the bus driver directions.
The itinerary for this morning calls for waking up at 6:30, eating a quick team breakfast, making the three-minute drive from the hotel to Grace College — the Rams are one of six teams staying at the same place — getting changed and taking the floor by 8:05.
“My pregame speech is maybe five seconds: ‘Go win the game,’” Stockman said. “I don’t want to be sitting there all day, so we’ll eat, talk, get dressed and play the game.”
That approach has worked in the past, as Stockman led Ohio Christian to NCCAA D-II national titles in his first two seasons as coach (2012-13 and 2013-14) and to a second-place finish in D-I in 2016-17.
The family loved its time in Circleville, but when Ohio Christian President Mark Smith left to take the same job at Columbia International following that school year, Stockman decided to join him a year later.
“As long as he’s here (at CIU), it’s hard to leave this situation,” the 37-year-old Stockman said of Smith. “It’s just the way it was at Ohio Christian. Our visions match up in everything that we’re doing.
“He sees that basketball is my ministry, and he understands the better we are, the more people we can reach. That’s the way he approaches the university as a whole. He’s a motivator. He puts pressure on you, but he also gives you the support to reach your goals.”
The co-winner of Ohio’s Mr. Basketball award as a Medina senior in 2000 — he went on to play at Clemson and Ohio State before embarking on a professional career that took him to places like France, Israel, Germany, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil — Stockman’s CIU team employs the fast-paced game he favored as a player.
The Rams, who simultaneously compete in NAIA D-II in addition to the NCCAA, average 81.1 points and give up 81.3. They are led by 6-foot-9 center Jeff McIlwain (12.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and guards Corey Benton (16.4 ppg) and Arthur Pearson (13.3 ppg). The latter two were recruited by Stockman while he was at Ohio Christian, with Pearson joining CIU at the semester break.
“We’re young and dumb,” joked Stockman, whose team often finishes games with four first-year college players on the court. “I have to let us play a little bit. We have some good athletes and real quick guards that can get to the basket and create, so we open it up and let them play.
“If we can get going and make some shots and get a rhythm going, our guys can get by people. We’re just playing and having fun, and that’s big for tournaments.”