Radebaugh continues to lead Christ-centered Bucs program
Charleston Southern’s men’s basketball program has been rebuilt.
This season, the Buccaneers claimed their first Big South regular season title in 26 years and reached the postseason for only the second time in school history with a berth in the NIT.
CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh, who just completed his eighth season, takes none of the credit for the Bucs’ turnaround. It is all a result of the Lord working through him and his coaching staff to better the lives of the young men they coach.
“First of all, the way that God has built this program has been amazing,” Radebaugh says. “We have put the Lord first in this program and we have seen an incremental growth. It has been a great experience. I am thankful Charleston Southern has given me the opportunity to grow as a coach and grow with the Lord.”
The incremental growth is apparent. CSU has rocketed from nine wins in in 2008-’09 to 19 in each of the last two seasons. Last year’s campaign was the first winning one for CSU since 1996-’97. The Bucs also made their first Big South Championship appearance in eight years.
Radebaugh’s rebuilding process at CSU hasn’t been an easy one. CSU struggled in his first four years before he realized things weren’t working. He was the first to admit, the first thing he had to change was his heart, and coach in a way that he felt would please the Lord.
“The first person he had to change was me,” Radebaugh says looking back. “We've been here now eight years, and our first three years were really unsuccessful. I really believe that we have started to coach the last few years the way that God would coach. We’ve tried to be highly organized and highly efficient, but we also want to bring out the best in our players through positive reinforcement and through unconditional love. That was a real change for me.”
Recruiting is the alpha and the omega in college basketball, maybe more so than any other team sport. Radebaugh changed the way he recruited to Charleston Southern, bringing the Lord and prayer into the process.
“God started to bring great players here,” Radebaugh said of the changes in CSU’s success. “It is almost like God hand-delivered those players here. We've tried to build a foundation of unconditional love, discipline, and toughness. The ultimate foundation for it all is having these kids’ best interest at heart so we can create in our program an environment where these kids can be the best that they can be spiritually, athletically, and academically.”
Radebaugh has continually found himself turning back to one verse, a scripture which he has worked to echo in directing the Buc program.
Colossians 2:2-3 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ. It is a passage around which Radebaugh has completely rebuilt his coaching philosophy.
“(The scripture) says God made the heart to encourage,” Radebaugh says. “Fear doesn't motivate. Anger doesn't motivate. Nothing motivates like love. When our team knows that our coaching staff loves them and cares about their hearts, it can become a very strong force. I believe that was a sign for me that God on how he wanted me to coach in order to bring out the best in young men.”
Radebaugh’s mission and message is seen in the men he coaches and leads.
Forward Paul Gombwer is part of a talented sophomore class for the Bucs that has expectations sky-high after a program-changing first two seasons. But Gombwer, like his teammates and coach, is not taking the credit.
“This year, everything we have been able to achieve has been because of our faith in God,” Gombwer says. “He has brought us closer as a team. If we win, to Him be the glory, if we lose, to Him be the glory.”
Gombwer knew Charleston Southern's program was different the moment he heard of the Bucs. Radebaugh was the reason.
"Coach Ray has been a great influence on me,” Gombwer said of his head coach. “When I was being recruited, I didn’t know anything about CSU. I had a lot of options coming out of high school, but the only person to stop and say, ‘Do you have time to pray together?’ was Coach Ray. As soon as he said that to me, I knew Charleston Southern was a different place and this is where I wanted to be.” Gombwer ‘s path to Charleston Southern was anything but typical. In fact, his journey onto the floor at the Buc Dome has been quite extraordinary.
Nigerian-born, Gombwer came to the U.S. as a freshman in high school after earning a scholarship to a prep school. He worked out at a fantasy basketball camp put together by Nigerian basketball legend Ejike Ugboaja, a former draft pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Gombwer was placed at the prestigious Mt. Zion Academy in North Carolina, but arrived too late for the school year and was not allowed to enroll. He spent his final three years of high school at three different prep schools, fighting for the chance to play college basketball.
As a senior, he commuted and bussed almost an hour to get to school, leaving at 5 a.m. and returning home often after 11 p.m. following practice and study hall, only to eat, sleep, and repeat the schedule.
Gombwer realized his dream though; recruiting calls began to pour in. He had his sights set on elite academics – he has a 3.5 GPA as a communications major at CSU – and was originally committed to Colgate, but coaching changes, and a high level of comfort with Radebaugh, led him to CSU.
Gombwer’s selflessness is evident on the court. He is the team’s leading rebounder and spends the majority of his time doing the Bucs’ dirty work; screening, defending, and doing whatever it takes for his team to succeed.
Not surprisingly, Gombwer’s actions away from basketball are just as selfless as when the Bucs are in action.
This past summer, the Bucs spent a week the Dominican Republic playing exhibition games and doing mission work. It was a week that tore at Gombwer’s huge heart.
“It wasn’t what I was expecting,” Gombwer said of the Dominican Republic. “I expected a better living situation in the orphanages, but the conditions were not good. All the orphans have is each other. I complain every day about things, but I have to remember I’m fortunate to have schooling, clothing, and food.”
Gombwer has already reached out to the orphanage near his home in Kaduna, Nigeria. He shipped camp T-shirts and basketballs from this past summer back to his home, where his sister is holding them for him to give to camps and clinics with the children this summer. After visiting the D.R., Gombwer sees he can do more.
“My final two years at CSU, I want to do everything I can (for the orphanages),” Gombwer says. “I want to hold fundraisers and drives at CSU games to give back. I see that there is so much more I can do. That we, as a team, can do.”
The Bucs set five goals for the season before the year began. They achieved four, coming up just short of a berth in the NCAA Tournament. With a young roster, and leaders like Radebaugh and Gombwer guiding the program, that dream could be realized in the very near future.