DECATUR — The son of divorced parents, Millikin University’s head men’s basketball coach Matt Nadelhoffer said the coaches and mentors he had growing up played a “massive role” shaping who he is today.
“I looked up to any guy who could dribble, dunk or played on a team,” he said. “That not only shows the stage you’re on but also the opportunity you have to impact kids.”
Nadelhoffer and company plan to take advantage of that opportunity this coming year by partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Macon County and matching coaches and players with at-risk boys enrolled at Dennis School.
Zach Shields, community partnership coordinator for the agency, said the goal is to give about 10 students the Big Brother they’ve been waiting for.
“It’s difficult sometimes to pair up kids in this age group,” Shields said. “They’re going to be stoked.”
Matt Andrews, principal at Dennis School, is already excited.
“The players and coaches are going to come in and talk with them at lunchtime, about school work, about the value of hard work and preparation and what it takes to be successful,” Andrews said. “We are really looking forward to this.”
The plan is for mentors to meet with their Little Brothers every other week during basketball season and weekly in the off-season.
Shields said the linkage likely will include opportunities for the children to attend Millikin’s home games and may evolve into community matches where “bigs” and “littles” regularly get together outside of school. A mini basketball camp for the boys also may be organized.
The partnership will be part of the lab school at Dennis with Millikin. Big Brothers Big Sisters of McLean County already has a similar program with Illinois Wesleyan University.
Nadelhoffer said he is presenting the opportunity to his team as a privilege, not a requirement.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to bless them more than (the children),” he said. “Impacting someone else can give them confidence, and it might be good for some of them to see, ‘Hey, my life isn’t so bad.’ ”
If summer basketball camps were any indication, one of four players returning to Millikin’s team this year is going to be a natural.
Nadelhoffer recalled how seconds after Nikko Robertson exclaimed, “Yes!” after making a shot, the coach’s 6-year-old son, Matthew, said “yes” exactly the same way. “All the kids at camp wanted to be around him,” Nadelhoffer said.
As the third of six children, Robertson said being with kids is easy and mentoring a child will give much-needed respite from the intensity of college basketball and classes.
Robertson, 20, of Chicago plays guard on the team and is a junior majoring in sports management.
“Once kids are comfortable around you, they’re always going to be honest and have a great attitude,” he said. “They’re really cool to be around.”