Chris Kraus is in his third year as head coach and is making his third Elite Eight trip with the program.
Kraus has gone to the Elite Eight as a player, an assistant coach and now as the head coach of the Skyhawks. Kraus will lead his men's basketball team into a Division 2 national quarterfinal game against West Liberty University in Frisco, Texas, on Wednesday afternoon.
BY Glen Farley
EASTON – Chris Kraus has enjoyed a most productive basketball career at Stonehill College.
He's consistently put himself in Elite company.
In leading the Skyhawks into the upcoming NCAA Division 2 Elite Eight as their head coach, Kraus has realized a "threefeat" at Stonehill, having previously reached that point as a player in 2006 and as the top assistant on coach David McLaughlin's staff in 2012.
"He obviously knows a great deal about the game and has been a winner literally every stage of the way," senior guard Carter Smith said, "so we're very happy that he's leading the ship."
Kraus will steer the 24-8 and fifth-seeded Skyhawks into a national quarterfinal-round game with 30-3 and fourth-seeded West Liberty University at Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco, Texas, at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
"He knows what he's doing," said Smith. "I think we're going to keep him around here a little longer."
Kraus the senior point guard on the Skyhawks 2006 Elite Eight squad.
A native of Toronto, Ontario, who arrived at Stonehill as a student-athlete in 2002, Kraus has already enjoyed an extended stay on the college's Easton campus, graduating from the school in 2006, returning as an assistant coach in 2010 and making history in 2013 when he became the first alumnus to direct the Skyhawks program after McLaughlin left to become the associate head coach on Bill Coen's staff at Northeastern University.
A standout point guard during his playing days, Kraus earned All-Northeast-10 Conference honors and was named to the Northeast Region All-Tournament Team as a member of the 2005-2006 squad that won a school-record 27 games, earned the program's first regional championship and a trip to the Elite Eight where it defeated Tarleton State University to advance to the Final Four at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
"We talk about it to this day as teammates and certainly all my best friends, it's something we've never forgotten and never will forget," said Kraus, reflecting on a team that included fellow senior starters Mike Lauricella, Sean Nelson and Marquis Taylor. "For that group and this group of guys, it's something you have forever – stories and sharing memories. As much as we want to win this thing, just having those memories and going through it with those guys in that locker room is something they're never going to forget."
Featuring seniors Andre Tonga and Patrick Lee, the 2011-2012 Stonehill squad was one to remember as well. The Skyhawks returned to the Elite Eight and defeated the same West Liberty program coached by the same Jim Crutchfield they will face this week to advance to the Final Four in Highland Heights, Ky., and Kraus was present again, this time as McLaughlin's top assistant.
Kraus was an assistant coach on the 2012 Elite Eight squad.
"Just watching Dave and trying to emulate him, I could have had no better mentor than Dave to help me through this," said Kraus. "We still talk pretty much each and every day. At times, I still feel like I work for him here and there, but he's been tremendous for me and my growth and development."
Given his past, there is a "been there, done that" type of feeling for Kraus at the present.
"It's taught me a lot, certainly all the steps to get here to this point," said Kraus. "As a player with the basketball in my hands and as an assistant learning, watching each and every day and getting ready for this moment and then being here it's been a lot of growth, a lot of development. The time that was put in to get to this point has certainly all paid off and all the hard work was for a reason."
Now, he is back in the Elite Eight, having led the Skyhawks there in just his third season at the helm, his teams showing constant improvement from an 8-18 finish in 2013-2014 to 19-10 with Northeast-10 Conference Tournament and NCAA Tournament berths in 2014-2015 to the Elite Eight following a berth in the NE-10 tourney this year.
When he reflects, Kraus sees similarities in the Elite Eight teams he's been associated with in three different roles.
"I think with all three groups, from my time as a player and as an assistant with the group four years ago and now this group, each of them embodied what a family was. Each group embodied the definition of a team," Kraus said. "This is a really tight-knit group. These guys care for one another both on and off the floor, and it shows. It shows on the court and when you play for each other, you're bound to do something special."
As for where his Elite Eight "threefeat" puts him, Kraus will leave that for others to decide.
"That's for everybody else to say," he said. "I'm just focused on the next game and getting our guys ready for Wednesday."