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There's more to Nussbaum than numbers
 

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There's more to Nussbaum than numbers
  • Naperville Central's Andy Nussbaum recently won his 500th game as a girls basketball coach.

    Purchase Photo | Naperville Central's Andy Nussbaum recently won his 500th game as a girls basketball coach. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 

Andy Nussbaum is so synonymous with Naperville Central athletics -- "our house is a Redhawks house," he is quick to say -- that it is probably not known he cut his coaching teeth at Wheaton North.

It was the 1980-81 school year, and Nussbaum was fresh out of Wheaton College. His JV girls basketball team went 2-21.

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"The thing about it was," he said, "we were 2-21 and I had fun. I thought to myself, 'How much more fun would this be if we were actually winning games?'"

Nussbaum would know winning well.

Taking over the Naperville Central girls basketball program in 1988, Nussbaum has won 12 DVC championships, 14 regionals, five sectionals and back-to-back state championships in 2003 and 2004.

And last Friday, Nussbaum won his 500th game, matching the 500th win he notched as softball coach last spring.

If it seems surprising that Nussbaum still remembers that inauspicious 2-21 start, it shouldn't. A math teacher at Naperville Central for going on three decades, Nussbaum's recall for numbers borders on the Dustin Hoffman character from the movie "Rain Man."

He can just as quickly snap off the final score of the 2003 state championship game, as he can the losing score of his Columbus High Bulldogs' semistate game from 1968. Nussbaum went to every Indiana sectional basketball tournament in Columbus from 1965-1990 "except in 1978, during the coal strike."

Nussbaum still keeps his dad's ticket stub from the 1951 Indiana state finals and remembers that his brother's team lost in the playoff's final eight to a team coached by Steve Alford's father on St. Patrick's Day 1984.

"Sometimes (the memory) can be a blessing," he said, "and sometimes it's a curse."

"He always remembers dates and numbers," said Emma Ondik, who played for Nussbaum the last four years and also took a Nussbaum statistics class. "It's crazy. I don't know how he does it."

Nussbaum's love for basketball, and by relation numbers, was bred in his hometown of Columbus, Ind., deep in Hoosier hoops country some 40 miles south of Indianapolis.

His dad, a social studies teacher at Columbus High School (later re-named Columbus North) gave Andy a scorebook as a boy. They packed into Bulldogs home games with 7,000 others, and Andy kept score of his "heroes."

"Keeping a book, it forces you to pay attention to the game," Nussbaum said. "I wasn't at all refined as to the strategy, but I knew who was putting the ball in the basket."

Nussbaum played baseball his junior and senior years but was cut from the basketball team. A coaching career may have indirectly been born.

Legendary Bulldogs coach Bill Stearman, a good friend of Bob Knight's who retired as Indiana high school basketball's third-most winningest coach, needed someone to keep the shot chart during games. Young Nussbaum heard and saw everything from the bench, perspective he still uses as a coach.

"I'm 53 and still disappointed that I got cut," Nussbaum said. "But I got to watch someone who I consider to be a master. I learned a lot that way."

Nussbaum likes to think he's passed along more than a knowledge of basketball.

He and his wife, Wendy, about whom he says, "I don't even know how to explain how wonderful she is with this," have hosted players for chili dinners for years. Long are Wendy and Andy's basketball conversations. Andy figures many of his seven children have learned to count by following the scoreboard with him on scouting road trips.

"I might be a dinosaur," he said, "but I think teachers and coaches should still be positive role models. I'm glad my wife gets involved. There are so many things about life in general you can learn through sports -- learning to work with people, setting goals. The gym can serve as a classroom. I hope that's something I'm able to pass on."

jwelge@dailyherald.com

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