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MILLIKIN BASKETBALL

Watch now: Millikin men's basketball looking to 'fill their cup' under new head coach Kramer Soderberg

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Calvin Fisher talks about freshmen on the team

DECATUR — As the Millikin men's basketball team kicked off the season, its mindset and culture has drastically changed.

Last season, the Big Blue managed a single win in the shortened spring season and when head coach Mark Scherer left the program in March, long-time assistant Kramer Soderberg was named the Big Blue's new head coach. 

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Millikin University head coach Kramer Soderberg instruct players during practice.

This season Soderberg is implementing a system he laid out in his book, Fill Your Cup for Christ: A Spiritual Journey Sown & Grown through Sports, published in 2020, that has a focus that is beyond just winning and losing. 

"Our goal as a team is to fill our cups. Each of our players have a certain potential and some have a big cup and some have a smaller cup," Soderberg said. "Our goal each year, each game, every practice, is to fill our cup to the top. If we do that, we are a success.

"At the end of the year, if the players can look at me in the eye and say that they have filled their cup to the top, I will say we are a success. If we win four games or 20, if doesn't matter to me. I believe if we fill our cup to the top, we will win some ball games."

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Millikin University player Drake Stevenson (22) and Calvin Fisher (12) go through drills during practice.

The change in philosophy has been embraced by the players. Senior guard Calvin Fisher, a Monticello graduate, can see a change among the returning players since Soderberg's hiring.

"It has been awesome. It is a lot different and I would say the main thing is the atmosphere. Coach Soderberg is a great coach and I felt like in the past we haven't had a personal relationship with our coaches," Fisher said. "Now it is not just about basketball. It is about family; it's about everything. You can see the difference in the group of guys who are here now. Even the returners have a different mindset."

Fisher sees the "fill your cup" mantra as more than just a basketball culture strategy. 

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Millikin University assistant coach Tom Noonan instruct players during practice.

"It is a great analogy for everything you do in life and on and off the basketball court. Classes, family ... you have your cup and you can fill it up as high as you want and we want it overflowing," Fisher said. "It means bringing everything you've got to the situation. If each individual cup fills into the bigger cup then we will have a successful year.

"Of course we want to win more than we lose, but we are about changing the culture. In five years, we can be at the top of the conference."

After finishing 11-13 in the 2018-19 season, the program had a tough 4-21 season in 2019-20 and was 1-12 in the spring season. The Big Blue have already surpassed last year's win total with a 2-1 start that has included wins against Blackburn and Spalding. They face Blackburn College again on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the team's home opener.

Millikin's loss was a one-point defeat, 52-51, against No. 18-ranked Washington University in St. Louis. 

"The first game was a special one for me. Obviously, the first game as a head coach there are some early butterflies, but our guys played really hard in a tough venue at Blackburn," Soderberg said. "We faced some adversity and I don't think we played our best but we competed hard enough to pull off the win. I got the ice water bath when I came in the locker room.

"We lost a heartbreaker to WashU on a buzzer beater. We are heading in the right direction and we are building a culture that we can be really proud of. There are good things to come."

Along with Fisher, senior Jake Hampton provides a scoring spark for the Big Blue. In previous seasons, experienced senior leadership was tough to find on Millikin's rosters, but Soderberg can now lean on the seniors to allow the freshmen to find their footing. 

"In the CCIW, it is very apparent that the best teams are playing juniors and seniors. I am very fortunate to have some veteran guys who have been around the block and who have clocked some CCIW minutes," Soderberg said. "But we are playing some young guys and I think our senior leadership allows our freshmen to not have to carry the load of things. They can learn at a slower pace and I have been pleased with our seniors and how they have been leaders for them."

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Millikin University player Drake Stevenson (22) and Calvin Fisher (12) go through drills during practice.

Fisher said he enjoys his expanding leadership role and this season has made him appreciate the sport of basketball a little more. 

"It is all about the coaching staff having trust in us. (Jake Hampton) and I have taken a big role and it is something preseason that we talked about," Fisher said. "If we can be a leader to (the younger players). they can be leaders to us to. I love the aspect of being a leader and it makes me feel like the high school days at Monticello where I have more responsibility.

"I feel like I found my love of basketball again. I think it is the atmosphere, the guys we have here and their passion for the game of basketball."


Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten

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