The march to Arch Madness, otherwise known as the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, has presented plenty of challenging twists and turns for the Illinois State University Redbird men’s basketball team this year, but as the 2022 postseason tips off this week at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, there’s little time for looking backward. 

Slotted near the bottom of the bracket as a No. 8 seed, the Redbirds (12-19 overall, 5-13 conference) face the No. 9 seed Indiana State University in Game 1 on Thursday, at 6:05 p.m. The Redbirds closed out the regular season Saturday with a decisive, 20-point margin victory over the Sycamores, but the calendar has flipped to the unpredictable month of March. Josiah Strong, the lone Redbird senior, admits that the season hasn’t always gone as expected, but none of that matters now.

“Everyone wants to win at tournament time, so you can’t get caught up in the moment,” he said. “We have to take our minds off of everything because it’s win or go home. Everyone comes into this 0-0.”

Strong, 22, is a 6-4 guard from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. He transferred from a junior college in Iowa after beginning his collegiate career at the United States Naval Academy. With Illinois State being the third stop on his basketball journey, he has some perspective on persevering through changing times.

“It’s good when you face some adversity to zoom out a little bit and be grateful for where you are,” he said.

Strong called his path to Normal an interesting one and said his time at one of the nation’s military academies made an impact on who he is now while showing him he’s been in the right place these past two years. He arrived here after his play in junior college caught the attention of interim head coach Brian Jones, then an assistant for former head coach Dan Muller.

“For me it was one of those situations where I had a good campaign, and ISU got on me early,” Strong said of the recruiting process. “Brian Jones built a really good relationship with me and Dan Muller did as well, and they thought I could make an immediate impact here. I thought my playing style was a good fit.”

And, a good fit it has been. A solid contributor, Strong leads the Redbirds in scoring from behind the arc and is second in overall scoring and minutes played this season. He describes himself as a scoring combo guard who can shoot the 3 ball. He will graduate in May with his bachelor’s degree in recreation management but still has a year of eligibility left. His options are open, and he’s considering graduate programs, including here.

“I’m a spiritual person, so wherever God takes me, I’m going to take that path,” he said.

Strong, one of four sons, credits his parents, Paul (a former cornerback for legendary football coach Lou Holtz at the University of Minnesota) and Lori, for teaching him early that school comes first.

“If I didn’t get grades I wasn’t going to see any field or court,” Strong said.

He also had great training and a support system from a number of coaches as he developed his skills as a young player back home in Minnesota. Home has been the place that keeps him level-headed, he said. For a long-term goal, he hopes to play professionally someday.

But for now, it’s time for Strong and his Redbird teammates to focus on the here and now because it’s time for Arch Madness.

“It’s time to live in the moment,” Strong said.

Keep up with the Redbirds and 2022 Arch Madness coverage, and get geared up for the postseason by attending a Redbird rally.

The Redbirds begin play on Thursday, March 3 at 6:05 p.m. against Indiana State. Follow MVC Tournament games, including the Illinois State vs. Indiana State game, on TV: MVC TV Network/ RADIOWJBC 1230 AM & 102.1 FM / WJBC FM 93.7 NASH ICON / and The Varsity Network Mobile App.