llinois Tech has given Jake Digiorgio (CHE 4th Year) everything he was looking for: a prestigious university with a strong engineering program that would lead to career opportunities, and the chance to keep playing basketball.
“You come here and you’ve got a lot of kids that think like you and have the same goals in mind, academic-wise,” explains Digiorgio. “It kind of pushes you to that next level.”
Men's basketball Head Coach Todd Kelly recruited Digiorgio to help turn around a program that had been shuttered since 2009. The team went on to win two games during Kelly’s first coaching season in 2014–15, but doubled its total to four wins his first year on campus and 22 his second as Digiorgio readily embraced his coach’s vision. He and his teammates helped lead the program to more than 50 wins the past three seasons and an appearance in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association championship game in 2017.
“I think if every kid that comes through our program can match that work ethic and then improve like [Jake] improved every year, then we’ll continue to have a good program,” Kelly says.
The same characteristics that have helped Digiorgio average double-digit points and rebounds all four seasons, amassing more than 1,200 career points and 1,200 career rebounds—“those two things are very, very hard to do,” Kelly says—stand out in the classroom, as Digiorgio has found ways to successfully balance academics, basketball, and his role as a resident assistant.
“He’s a good student, but he has real leadership qualities,” Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and Former President John L. Anderson says about his one-time thermodynamics student. "It’s the character. The success in life is often determined by that.”
Anderson, as Illinois Tech president, made the decision to cancel the program as the athletics department began its move from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III. Since the program was restarted, Anderson has made sure to pay attention to both it and Digiorgio, whom he first came in contact with when Digiorgio interviewed him for a first-year career course—and made a strong impression.
“Jake’s a great young man and has a bright future ahead of him. He represents the character and the commitment we like to see in the students,” Anderson says of the 6-foot-6 forward, who is pursuing an officer-training program with the United States Air Force after graduation.
“He’s a poster child for where we want to be in Division III,” Anderson adds.