Photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- Nathan Stolz sits in a suite above the Mayborn Campus Center, midway through the first day of the spring semester. The rhythmic sound of bouncing basketballs echoes off the gym floor below. In three days, the arena will be full for a 92-77 win over ASC rival Hardin-Simmons.
But now it sits relatively quiet, a fitting parallel to Stolz himself, who, while not often the loudest on the floor, is recognized as someone who can get the job done when the lights come on.
He is feeling comfortable this year, no longer the “new guy” on the team, as he was at this point 12 months ago. Last season, he was an incoming transfer from John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, a player head coach Clif Carroll said before the season would be “special”. After averaging 6.1 points and 3.3 rebounds in 29 games for the Cru, he stepped back onto the floor this past fall as a returner. And there is no question that he has found his perfect fit.
“I came from a situatuon that wasn’t great, where I didn’t get along,” the College Station native said in a recent interview with True To The Cru. “But then coming into a situation here, where Coach Carroll lets you play freely [was a big positive].
“I knew this was a place where I wanted to be,” he continued. “Where I could have fun playing basketball, where I would have brothers on the team, and people that cared about me and would push me to success.”
He has started UMHB’s last five games heading into Saturday’s rematch with Concordia (TX), averaging 5.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in 16 contests thus far. But he’s not just a basketball player either, one of the things he loves most about the position he is in now.
Five days ago, he was named to the Dean’s Honor Roll. And last spring, he fished in his first tournament for UMHB’s bass fishing team, of which is a part of.
Fishing is both a passion and a pastime for Stolz. His dream school was Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Why?
“I just wanted to be able to play basketball and fish every day, any day I wanted to,” Stolz recalls with a laugh.
Lake Belton isn’t exactly the Gulf of Mexico. But it has worked just fine for Stolz, whose well-roundedness in the classroom, on the court, and on the bass boat is a fitting model of the D-III way, where balance is preached. Last spring, he fished in his first tournament for the Cru in Missouri.
“It was a really fun experience,” Stolz said. “It was eye opening, and though we didn’t do great, it is an experience you can build on.”
Being part of something outside of basketball that fufills a passion, and represents a school he has come to love is the best of all worlds for the 6’6 forward.
“Being part of the fishing team is awesome and something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I came in knowing Colby Hamilton, who is one of the founders. It’s an awesome experience just to be able to connect with other guys and do other things on campus.”
The earliest memories Stolz has of his time in basketball go back to the hours he spent in the driveway at his home in College Station, learning how to shoot from his father, Scot. And while it is not all that uncommon for young players to learn the fundamentals from their fathers, Stolz had a chance to continue sharing his passion for the sport with his father through all four seasons of high school. Scot coached the Aggieland Homeschool high school boys teams that Stolz played on throughout his time at the prep level.
“It was special,” Stolz recalls of getting to play for four years of high school with his father leading the team. “There’s always some drama around that, just because your dad is your coach, but I credit him for never giving me a hard time if I was having a bad game or practice. I was always treated the same as any other guy.”
Playing under Carroll now in Belton, Stolz sees plenty of parallels between the father-son, and simultaneous coach-player relationship he shared with his father throughout high school.
“Having that bond as father and son, you understand each other,” Stolz continued. “You can butt heads but it’s for the betterment of yourself and the team. That’s one thing that’s pretty cool about Coach Carroll. Obviously he’s not my dad, but there’s a little bit of a “father figure” aspect to the way he coaches us too.”
Homeschool basketball is a world within itself, starkly different in a number of ways from its public school, and in certain cases, its private school counterparts. A schedule of nearly 50 games is common, and few have any such thing as a “home gym”. It is rare for a newspaper or television station to produce anything on an area home school team’s results, meaning that most operate in the shadows. And yet, great players come out of the homeschool ranks every year, something Stolz knows first hand. In an untraditional high school basketball format, he was prepared for the day-to-day challenges of excelling at the collegiate level.
“I always felt like I was an underdog coming from a situation like that,” Stolz said. “But we got to play really good schools, and some very prominent programs. We had the chance to go and upset a lot of those guys on their home floors.
“It’s not that I don’t love playing at home [here at UMHB], but I kind of have a feel for playing on the road and in hostile environments.”
The biggest enivornement Stolz ever played in came at the National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championships, contested at Missouri State University. He played at the national tournament in all four years, including the 2016 tournament, in which Aggieland made a deep run, winning four times before losing to Nashville Central Christian in double overtime. Stolz, a sophomore, and his team took third place in the tournament
“When anyone talks about high school basketball, they always talk about playing for a state championship,” Stolz said. “But in homeschool, it’s the national tournament, which is awesome. There are teams there from all over the country.
“I actually played against my cousin and his team from Tennessee that year we made the big run. They had a kid go to Belmont (D-I) and were a really solid team. Across the board, you know that when you get into the final 16 teams, everyone is of quality. And playing in that tournament gives you a feel of the NCAA tournament, which makes it special.”
The NCAA Tournament is the sort of national tournament Stolz has his eye on now. The Crusaders reached the Elite Eight a year ago, one win away from the Final Four, in the program’s first appearance in the tournament since 2013. And the Cru are eager to build on last year’s experience, seeking to reach the tournament in consecutive years for the first time since 2012-2013.
“Anytime you make a deep tournament run, you’re going to learn some things about each other, and what you need to build on for next year,” Stolz said. “I think it was the perfect test. We know we’re a championship-capable team.”