A winning vision: Schroyer sees his goal become reality

Published 4:06 pm Friday, December 22, 2023

Back in the summer of 2018 Heath Schroyer sat inside an arena still under construction and wearing a hard hat.

On that day he talked of the future and his vision for McNeese State basketball.

He spoke of the new arena filled with Cowboy fans, of students storming the court, of big games and bigger wins.

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That day Schroyer was speaking as the new McNeese basketball coach who saw himself as the one leading the Cowboys into those days. A lot has happened since that day and Schroyer never did make it to that promised land as the Pokes’ head coach.

But there he was last Sunday, leading the cheers not as the king of Joe Dumars Court in the Legacy Center but rather as the kingmaker.

Schroyer saw his vision become reality when the Cowboys rallied from 13 points down in the last 11 minutes to beat rival Louisiana-Lafayette to start the season 10-2. That’s the best opening 12 games for a McNeese team in 51 seasons, which, ironically, is Schroyer’s age.

A lifetime of waiting for this type of start has now passed and for that McNeese fans can thank Schroyer’s gamble.

“I really thought we could do this here,” said Schroyer. “I’m just in a different seat than I thought I would be in.”

Schroyer is now the McNeese Athletic Director and his gamble of hiring a former LSU head coach with baggage to lead basketball has the Cowboys cashing in.

Schroyer went out and got Will Wade, who in nine months has given birth to the surprisingly good Pokes.

“This athletic department needed a shot of adrenaline and Will Wade came here and gave it to us,” said Schroyer.

The A.D. admitted the win over ULL and the sellout crowd was both a sense of pride and validation for him.

“I knew we could do this here if we had the right people in place,” Schroyer said. “What I’m really happy for is this community, this university. We have all been through a lot and we needed this.”

Schroyer was not the only one inside the Legacy Center last Sunday to see their dream come true. Outgoing McNeese President Daryl Burckel and the school’s No. 2 guy Wade Rousse were both there.

Burckel is the guy who took his own gamble and turned his athletic department over to Schroyer.

“I did think this all was possible,” Burckel said. “I never thought it would be with Will Wade as head coach, but this is great for all of us.

“It builds a sense of excitement and accomplishment for everybody, which we all could use. It sells the university and helps the McNeese brand nationally.”

Rousse has been perhaps the biggest guy when it comes to getting others to invest in McNeese athletics. Among other things, Rousse heads up the McNeese Athletic Foundation, the financial engine that fuels this Cowboy train.

The trio has committed to building the school’s national name through sports, which is not always popular among the more academic types.

With football struggling lately and until this year basketball also losing, the sale of sports was not always easy.

“The biggest disappointment in my seven years is not being able to help see football turn back around and men’s basketball struggle,” Burckel said. “That is not a legacy I wanted to leave behind.”

There was Burckel, Rousse, and Schroyer last Sunday all in different parts of the arena seeing the fruits of their labor come to fruition.

Other big games will come to town for these Cowboys and there will likely be more sellouts. Winning does that.

But it’s the vision of a couple of men, their gamble, and the work to get others to invest that has changed the fortune of this program.

That and of course Will Wade himself.

It sure was a long way from the days of hard hats and construction zones.

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