Building a strong basketball tradition is not an easy task. You don’t become Kentucky or Duke or even Oklahoma City University overnight.
Oklahoma City, in case you’re wondering, has won the NAIA Division I men’s basketball championship a record six times. It’s that sort of a championship tradition that Elliott Vaughn of Batavia hopes to help build at Roosevelt University.
Vaughn is a 6-foot-6 sophomore forward for Roosevelt, which revived its athletic program as an NAIA member in 2010 after a 21-year absence.
“We’re doing so many things that hadn’t been accomplished the first two seasons,” Vaughn said of this year’s squad. “Creating a tradition, hopefully for years to come, is something truly special.”
Vaughn is averaging six points and three rebounds a game for the Lakers, who are 13-9 overall and 9-8 in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
“We started off rocky,” Vaughn said of a three-game losing streak to open the season. “Ever since then, we’ve been hungry.”
A highlight of the season for Vaughn was participating in the first basketball game to be held in the new Lillian and Larry Goodman Center across the street from the university’s Auditorium Theatre building in downtown Chicago.
“To be part of the home opener was so special,” Vaughn said. “It’s something that will be talked about for years.”
Vaughn has made the adjustment from suburban to big-city life nicely.
“Being in Chicago alone is a great experience for a 19-year-old,” he said. “To be down here and living down here is amazing.”
Vaughn says he looked at a school in Maine and some other local schools such as Elmhurst, North Central College and Wheaton College before settling on Roosevelt. He says he is “most definitely” happy with the decision.
“From the basketball experience, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve grown a lot in the year-and-a-half I’ve been here,” Vaughn said. “My game has come along. I put on muscle in the offseason, just getting stronger. Being under coach [Joe] Griffin I’ve grown as a player and a person. … I think I’ve grown as a player the last two years more than I have my entire life.”
Vaughn first drew the attention of the Roosevelt coaching staff while he was playing in a fall exposure league before his senior year of high school.
“They watched me play a couple times in the exposure league,“ Vaughn said. “They continued to recruit me as the season rolled around at Batavia.”
Griffin and the Laker coaches liked what they saw during Vaughn’s successful senior campaign for the Bulldogs, in which he averaged 12 points and nine rebounds a game and received honorable mention all-state accolades.
“I felt like a priority for them,” Vaughn said of his recruitment by Roosevelt coaches. “They seemed like they really liked me and liked my game.”
Vaughn said he’s had to adjust to the speed of the college game and the dedication it requires. He noted that he typically has three classes in the morning, then practice and film study in the afternoon.
“It’s a 9-5 job,” he said. “It’s really a time commitment. In high school, you didn’t have to put that much time into it. … It’s really a full-time job for me to balance school, a college education and balance being a basketball player at a university.”
As a freshman, Vaughn played in 26 games for the Lakers, starting five, while averaging five points and four rebounds a game. This season, he’s played in 21 games and started five.
“It really changes from night to night,” he said of his role. “Some games, I might be in there 25-30 minutes, some games maybe 20. It depends on if they need my energy.”
Vaughn hopes that his strong play in the post, focusing on defense and rebounding and scoring when the opportunities are there, will help the Lakers begin a tradition of post-season success.
“We’re looking to get a pretty high seed in the conference tournament and then hopefully make it into the [NAIA] playoffs,” he said.
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle. To submit information on area athletes competing in college, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.