The list of all-time collegiate basketball players in the state of Illinois is a long one, with several players from NCAA Division I schools such as the University of Illinois, DePaul, Loyola and Illinois State continuing their careers as superstars in the NBA.
But when it comes to the top career scorers at any collegiate level in Illinois, it is Valparaiso native Brad Karp who finds himself right at the top of the pack. Karp, who graduated from Valparaiso High School in 2010 and played four years at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, ranks fourth on that list with a career points total of 2,889. He trails only Hersey Hawkins (Bradley, 3,008), Kevin Koeman (Trinity Christian, 3,007) and Alfredrick Hughes (Loyola, 2,914) and ranks ahead of other notable alumni from the Land of Lincoln including Doug Collins (Illinois State, 2,240), Mark Aguirre (DePaul, 2,182) and Deon Thomas (Illinois, 2,129).
“That’s pretty crazy,” said Karp, who just wrapped up his collegiate career with the Cougars by leading the team to the second round of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division II National Tournament in March. “I never thought I’d be able to score 2,000 points. I thought I’d be a normal player in college and certainly not on a list with those legends.”
Karp also recently broke Mike Walaszek’s Saint Xavier points record that was set back in 1978, but the story of Karp’s hoops history began right here in Valpo at a very young age.
Having played since kindergarten, Karp was on his school teams at Cooks Corners Elementary and Ben Franklin Middle School before playing at VHS from 2006-10.
Being on a team that defeated Crown Point in the 2009 sectional title game as a junior was the highlight of his career in Valpo, Karp said.
“It was probably the toughest (sectional) draw we could have had,” Karp remembers. “But we all came together, won three games and beat a really good Crown Point team in a close championship game. I remember thinking that’s what you work hard for in the summer and during the season. Unfortunately we could not move past the regional that year, but the hard work paid off to get us that far.”
It was that work ethic that helped make Karp such a special player at SXU, according to Tom O’Malley, head coach of the men’s basketball team at Saint Xavier.
“Brad is an outstanding young man with an unbelievable work ethic,” O’Malley said. “He constantly works to make himself stronger and better.”
Karp was without a doubt a leader for the Vikings while playing in high school, but he wasn’t flashy and did not have the breakout numbers he had in college. For that reason, NCAA schools were not lining up to recruit him.
“Out of high school, I could see why some D-1 schools didn’t go after him because he wasn’t a flashy player with unbelievable talent,” O’Malley said. “But when I watched him play I saw a very good and steady player who could excel in our system.”
“His greatest strength is his strength itself and his ability to drive ball to basket, take a hit and still continue. He can get rebounds, has great dexterity around the basket and is a great shooter - all great assets for us,” the Saint Xavier coach added.
But as good of a player as Karp was for the Cougars, he was even a better student and person, O’Malley said. Karp was recently named an NAIA Division II scholar athlete.
Excelling as a student is something Karp’s father, Dave Karp of Anderson Insurance, is also proud of.
“Our whole family is proud of his accomplishments on the court and in the classroom,” Dave Karp said. “He set his goals high and worked very hard to achieve them.”
Hard work seems to be the theme in the Karp family.
“One thing I learned at Valpo is that you have to work hard,” Brad said. “No one is going to give you anything. If you don’t work hard, you cannot get gratification.”
Playing for the Vikings also helped him become a leader on the court, his father said.
“Brad has been a leader since he was a freshman at Saint Xavier and a lot of that boils down to what he learned through Valparaiso basketball,” he said.
But it was Saint Xavier that Brad says provided him “the best four years” of his life.
“It was great,” Karp said of the SXU experience. “On the court it was fun because we were always pressing teams, which is always fun for a player. I couldn’t ask for anything more of my teammates. The players on the team are now some of my best friends.”
O’Malley and upperclassmen when he was a freshman helped show him how “to be more aggressive” as a player.
“The freedom Coach O'Malley instilled in our offense really worked out well,” Karp said.
A pair of stellar games against national stalwart Robert Morris were the best of his Cougar career. One of those was a 39 point, 19 rebound performance against an Eagles team that was ranked No. 1 in the NAIA at the time. An example of Karp's ability to step his game up against tough competition.
“You could always count on at least 25 points from Brad,” O’Malley said. Karp averaged 22.7 points per game over four seasons, including a 25.9 average in his senior year, the best of his career.
But beating top-ranked Cardinal Stritch University on the road in the conference championship game this year was the best team accomplishment.
“It’s all about the team and all I can remember is how great it felt to hold the trophy on another team’s home floor,” he said. "There's something special about that."
Karp still supports VHS basketball and will be “the biggest supporter” of SXU from now on.
“They are right around the corner from the national championship,” Karp said of Saint Xavier. “We have had really good teams the last couple of years and I can see them pulling it off real soon.”
But while Karp’s college career may be complete, he has no plans on leaving the court permanently.
“I definitely want to play at the next level,” he said. “I’m doing whatever I can to make that happen.”
And count O’Malley as one who could also see a hoops future for his leading graduating senior.
“Part of coaching is that you have to parlay into something and I’m trying to make as many contacts as possible,” he said. “I think he can play at the next level, it is just a matter of where. It can be tough because a lot of NBA people already have their minds made up about people unless you have a direct in-road, but Europe is a realm I could see him getting in to.
“And once people see him play for awhile, they are going to like him.”