Entering his eighth season as the head coach of the Hillsdale College men’s basketball program, John Tharp has pushed and evolved the program from one that struggled to crack the top half of the conference, into a powerhouse that was crowned GLIAC champs in 2011-12.
The challenge now is not making the climb to the top, but to stay tough and talented enough to stay there.
“We achieved some great goals that year in winning 24 games, winning our conference regular season title and making it back to the NCAA Tournament,” Tharp said. “But despite everything we achieved, the season still ended on a disappointing note for our players. Our guys are coming into this season determined to continue building on the success we’ve earned.”
Although success is typically measured in wins, losses is an interesting indicator of where Tharp has taken the Chargers. In the modern era of Charger men’s basketball (since World War II), the 2010-11 and 2011-12 team’s loss total of 12 ranks as the fewest by the program in a two-year span.Tharp’s seven-year record now stands at 125-69, ranking him third on Hillsdale’s all-time coaching wins list behind Ron Halstad (172), and Ed Douma (142).
Tharp came to Hillsdale after a very successful 13-year stint as the head coach at Lawrence University, a Division III school in Wisconsin. Tharp leaves Lawrence as that school’s all-time leader in victories and winning percentage, compiling a career record of 204-108.
Starting with the 2003-04 season, Tharp guided Lawrence to three of its best seasons in school history. He led the program to three consecutive Midwest Conference championships from 2003 to 2006, and rang up an overall record of 69-12. The best of those three seasons came in 2005-06, when Lawrence went 25-1 and was ranked No. 1 in the nation among Division III teams for one month during the season. That .852 winning percentage he compiled between 2003-2006 was the best of any Division III school in the nation.
Tharp noted that Lawrence and Hillsdale are very similar in their academic standards and student populations.
“The schools have similar missions, and I believe in kids getting a great education,” Tharp said. “At the same time, we want players who can come in and play great basketball. I don’t think you have to sacrifice one for the other.
“We believe in the mission of the college. I want to make it a program everyone can be proud of.”
Lawrence University represented the first head coaching job for Tharp when he was hired at the age of 24, prior to the 1994-95 season. He spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Beloit (Wisc.) College before taking over the Lawrence program.
Tharp was named MWC Coach of the Year four times in his 13 seasons with the Vikings.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in history in 1991, and holds a master’s degree in education.
Tharp and his wife Jennifer have three children, McKayla, Logan and Lukas.