Steamboat Springs With 30 years at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, men’s basketball co-coach Tom Kropp has been around long enough to play the law of averages.
Kropp has seen his share of walk-ons, knows the stories and knows the chances of their playing.
“When we get walk-ons, the odds of them playing for you is probably 20 percent,” said Kropp, who has 413 wins at Kearney. “That’s over the course of their career. For them to start, it’s 10 percent over a career. For them to come in and start their first year, it’s 5 percent.”
But is it a surprise that 2008 Steamboat Springs High School graduate Michael Vandahl fits in that 5 percent?
Vandahl, who spent his freshman year at the University of Denver, wrapped up his sophomore campaign for Kearney as a walk-on.
Although his playing time was limited at first, Vandahl ended the season averaging 19 minutes a game and 6.6 points, and he started 11 of the last 12 games.
“Probably from the early season, I knew I could play,” Vandahl said. “I had a knee injury that slowed me down. But from the get-go, I knew I could play with these guys and be good.”
Vandahl earned a reputation in Steamboat as a relentless worker and a heck of a point guard. He was a two-time all-state player and left as the school’s all-time leader in assists with 331, free-throw percentage with 83.9 percent and 3-point field goal percentage with 40.2 percent. He also set the school’s single-season free-throw percentage record his junior year, when he shot 90.6 percent from the line.
But Vandahl found it tough to get off the bench at DU and struggled in the strict Princeton-based offense. He decided to transfer and walk on at Kearney.
“All we had heard about Mike, people would call and talk to us and basically what they said, and what we’d like about Mike Vandahl, was they said he was really hard-nosed,” Kropp said. “He’s a throwback. He competes. He’s hard-nosed and not selfish. They weren’t lying to us.”
The injured knee limited Vandahl early in the season. But Kropp realized early on that the Lopers needed a point guard who could score. Vandahl filled that void and extended defenses, leading the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in 3-point field goal percentage at 50 percent.
Vandahl will return to Kearney in June to take a class and help with several basketball camps. He’ll be back in Steamboat in July to continue working at his game.
He said his focus this summer would be attacking the basket.
That’s a good sign for a Lopers team that finished 13-14 last season but returns all but one player.
“In basketball you make the most improvement between your first and second game,” Kropp said. “For players, it’s between the first and second season. Realistically, this was Mike’s first season. We look for Mike to come back a really improved player. Basically we want him to keep continuing to improve in all facets of the game.”