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Apr. 28—Josh Schertz didn't get to be one of the winningest coaches in Division II history by failing to recognize a good thing when he had it.
Tyreke Key didn't become one of the best players in the Missouri Valley Conference by not understanding that there's a system he could thrive in to make him even better.
ISU's March men's basketball coaching change brought the two parties together. While there were no certainties of an outcome one way or another, Schertz knew that his ability to get his program moving in the right direction was dependent on convincing Key to stay for another year.
Key, who could have very easily gone professional — as many assumed he would — or shopped for a new college experience in the transfer portal, kept an open mind and gave Schertz a fair chance.
Ultimately, Key decided to continue his basketball career as a Sycamore. Key told Schertz on Tuesday that he was staying and made his decision public on Wednesday via his social media accounts.
To say that this was a big deal for the start of the Schertz regime is an overwhelming understatement. Key led ISU at 17.2 points per game in 2021 and was first team All-MVC. Key is the sixth-leading scorer in ISU history with 1,650 career points.
Key is able to take advantage of the NCAA's decision not to count the pandemic-ravaged 2020-21 season against seniors by giving them another year of eligibility.
In the end? Key stayed at ISU because he believes Schertz and his system — which emphasizes driving, 3-point shooting and spreading the floor — will help him in the long run.
"I think it was really just looking towards the future and what was best for me. I spoke with my family, my Mom, and we thought this would be the best route to go," Key told the Tribune-Star on Wednesday.
"I've been in the gym with him everyday, and after having met with him multiple times, we developed a chemistry. They're going to pour themselves into this and they're ready to go. That's what tipped it," Key added.
Key had the leverage in this situation. Schertz was the one who had to convince Key that staying was the right decision. Part of that was keeping an open door for Key. Schertz held off on making any radical decisions for his roster, knowing that Key's return would be the most radical move of all.
"You want clarity on your roster. Coming in, Tyreke Key was the best recruit out there. If he had put his name in the portal, he would have likely gone to a Kentucky, Tennessee or North Carolina. He could have had his choice to go anywhere in the country and would have had options at the pro level," Schertz said.
Schertz credited Key with keeping an open mind and giving Schertz time to show what he was all about before he made his decision.
"I'll give him credit. He was at that first team meeting in March and he met with me when I came back. He agreed to give me a month, to go through workouts and get a feel for us. I'm appreciative that he gave us that opportunity because he didn't have to do that. Not everyone did that with our program," Schertz noted.
"What I discussed with him, and what I discuss with all players, is to create more value for themselves while they're here. Tyreke coming back only made sense if he thought through our player development program and through our style of play, that he'd create more value for himself as a pro," Schertz added.
"I told him if he didn't want to do it, he should go, because he'd be delaying the inevitable. It says a lot about his humility, his level of competitiveness and his desire to grow to [play] his last year here."
Key has given hints since the coaching change occurred that he might stick around. He watched Schertz's Lincoln Memorial team at the Division II Tournament in Evansville in-person. He's been a constant presence at ISU workouts ever since.
Key also likes Terre Haute and has built relationships here.
"I had several options that I could do, but it was either going pro or coming back to Indiana State. I didn't see entering the transfer portal for the fact that I'm clued into what I can do here. Obviously playing at a higher school, you're taking a chance on different things. I have a comfort zone here in Terre Haute and with the people I know," Key said.
Schertz credits the workouts Key has participated in as helping smooth his level of comfort.
"He's had a chance to spend time with us. We haven't tried to be anything but ourselves, but he has a comfort with our relationship. We've worked to spend time together to see how we fit as coach and player. The workouts have allowed him to see how we develop him and the nuance differences in what we do versus what he's done before. I think he feels one year in this can create more value in himself as a player," Schertz said.
Schertz's system doesn't hurt. Key is a 37.4% 3-point shooter and is one of the best drivers in the MVC. All are valuable in Schertz's way of playing.
"I like the pace of it. You play fast, but you have to make the right reads, and I think that will really benefit me, especially if I want to play pro. It's a pro system in how the offense is run. From that standpoint, it's going to be great," Key said.
For Key, it will be a different vibe too. From the point he arrived in Terre Haute in 2017, the noise around the program was related to Greg Lansing's job status. Beyond winning, the internal onus was on keeping the band together. Now, the atmosphere is different. Key will be part of growing something new.
"I'm definitely excited. The last coaching staff built the culture where we needed it. With a new coaching staff, we have to build from that. I think we have a lot of great players coming in and a lot of great players returning. Nothing will be easy, but challenges are fun, and I look forward to them," Key said.
With Key's return, that takes up 11 of the 13 scholarships that are usually available. With COVID-19-related differences in roster rules this season, ISU has the flexibility to add more players.
"In a normal year, we'd have two scholarships left. With COVID, you're allowed to over-sign your seniors, so NCAA maximum, we could bring in maybe four more, but we don't anticipate that. We'd like to bring in two or maybe three more pieces to add to this roster. When you have a player of Tyreke's caliber? Everyone else fits in on how you complement your stars," Schertz said.
—Coaching staff — With Kareem Richardson's departure to Clemson's staff last week, Schertz has an opening on his staff he didn't anticipate. Still, Schertz paid tribute to Richardson, who helped in the short time they worked together.
"Kareem was unbelievable in my transition in aiding me and helping. I'm sad to see him go, but I understand and we're thrilled for him. In terms of the position, I have someone in mind. When you lose someone of Kareem's caliber, you want to hit a home run, so we'll swing for the fences and see what we can get done," Schertz said.
Schertz anticipates that a hire will be made sometime in May.