By the numbers, Boomer Roberts has been a huge success since he took over the struggling Trinity International University men’s basketball program before the 2014-15 season.
In just his third season as coach, Roberts guided the Trojans to a 30-6 record and the quarterfinals of the 2017 NAIA Division II national tournament. It was the first time any Trojans program reached the quarterfinals of an NAIA tournament.
Trinity is ranked No. 13 in the country in the most recent NAIA Division II poll and is 13-5 after beating St. Ambrose 90-80 on Saturday.
Roberts credits his winning ways not to statistics or Xs and Os, but to family building among the Trojans.
“When you learn to love each other and put each other before yourself, you start to experience joy and you come together as a family,” Roberts said.
O’Shae Williams, a junior college transfer from Cypress (Calif.) College who is in his first season on the team, said one of the main reasons he chose Trinity was the family culture.
“I could tell they were a family,” said Williams, a junior guard who is averaging a team-high 19.9 points per game. “I knew (this) basketball family would be here for me.”
The year before Roberts arrived on the Bannockburn campus, the Trojans went 5-25. That same season, Roberts was the lead assistant on the Vanguard (Calif.) men’s basketball team that won an NAIA Division I national title.
Roberts played at Vanguard, which is located in Costa Mesa, from 2004-08 and was named the school’s Male Athlete Champion of Character as a senior. After two years as an assistant on the Vanguard women’s basketball team, he served as a men’s basketball assistant for four seasons.
Roberts, who is married and has two boys, said he was happy with the life he and his family had there. He knew he wanted to be a head coach but never dreamed he would move with his family to the Midwest or East Coast to pursue it.
A guiding principal of Roberts’ life is his Christian faith. He said that had a lot to do with his journey to Trinity, a Christian school where the “lordship of Christ should affect and be evident in every aspect of education, relationship, and endeavor,” according to the school’s website.
“The Lord opened a door for us to be here,” Roberts said. “I didn’t know about the opening or plan to put in an application. I got a communication from the new president of Union University in Tennessee telling me I’d be right for the opening.”
Trinity’s current president, David Dockery, led Union for 18 years before Trinity announced him as president on Feb. 28, 2014. Mark Campbell, the Union women’s basketball coach and a person Roberts described as one of his most significant mentors, encouraged Roberts to take the job. Roberts’ hiring was announced on June 30, 2014.
In his first year, Roberts’ team finished 13-17. Things improved dramatically the following season as Trinity went 20-14. Roberts said things started to change midway through his first season when the Trojans won 10 straight games after enduring a nine-game losing streak.
A family atmosphere is just part of the culture Roberts has instilled in the program. When asked to describe the environment he has tried to build, Roberts used two words: “Relentless pursuit.”
“I want to them to pursue excellence actively,” Roberts said. “I want them to pursue excellence in everything they do — in their relationships with each other, when they compete in the classroom and on the court.”
When Roberts is asked his goals at Trinity, he continually says he wants to “build men and a program” with men always coming first. That is intentional.
“Eventually the ball is going to stop bouncing,” Roberts said. “This is about where they’re going to be 10, 20, 30 years from now. I want them to be faithful husbands and loving fathers more than anything else.”
Religious conviction and a family atmosphere helped draw twins Greg Carlyle and Jeremy Carlyle to Trinity from their home in Compton, Calif. Greg Carlyle said he learned on his official visit to Trinity how the whole team went to the wedding of one of the players.
“That was cool,” Greg Carlyle said. “I want all of my basketball family to be at my wedding.”
Jeremy Carlyle said he and his brother, who are junior guards, wanted to find a Christian school. Family, both nuclear and athletic, also was important to the Carlyles.
“We wanted to go to school and play together,” Jeremy Carlyle said. “We were able to do that here.”
The brothers are both enjoying strong seasons. Jeremy Carlyle is the team’s third-leading scorer (15.8 points per game) and Greg Carlyle ranks fourth (14.9).
While Roberts said he and some of his assistant coaches are able to use their California contacts to draw players to Illinois, the 17-man roster has nine athletes from Illinois. Six players have California ties.
Roberts’ success has brought interest from other schools but he said his focus is on winning at Trinity.
“God brought my family here for this time,” Roberts said. “I’m flattered by any attention but our focus is leading these men in our program here.”
Trinity athletic director Michael Gorsline said he is aware successful coaches can be lured away by other schools, but that is not his focus. He said that like at most small schools, coaching contracts at Trinity are from year to year.
“He is the right guy in the right place and a really good fit here,” Gorsline said.
Steve Sadin is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.