Saint in Search of Salvation: Coach Mark Berokoff gives CHD an eyewitness account of the tornado in Oklahoma

Mark Berokoff is the head basketball coach of the Hillsdale Baptist College Saints in Moore, Oklahoma. On Monday, May 20th the city of Moore was slammed by a tornado with catastrophic results.

The tornado missed hitting the college by just one mile, but based on the images from TV and the Internet the town appears to have been nearly wiped out. The college is currently housing recovery workers and is in desperate need of donations to feed them and provide them with the necessary supplies to help their lifesaving efforts. In the midst of all this chaos, Coach Berokoff took some time out to tell his story to Jon Teitel:

Hillsdale Basketball 2022

Berokoff on the Tornado:

Take me through the tornado last Monday:

Where were you when it hit? Funny story: on Sunday I was mowing the yard when my back went out. I went to a spine specialist and found out that I have two slipped disks that are impinging on my sciatic nerve. Therefore, I was not at work on Monday when the tornado hit. I was watching the news reports and following the path of the tornado as it was heading towards Moore. On the news they kept saying that two schools had been hit, but I had no idea which two. Due to the jammed phone lines and cell towers being down it was several hours before I was sure that Hillsdale was still standing. I talked to some of my colleagues who were there, and they said it sounded like the loudest train you could imagine. Our women’s coach, Hannah Owen, was at the school when the tornado hit. Her parents thought the school was hit and were trying to find a way to get down there: no one could get a hold of her for several hours. Lee Bauder, head of facilities at the school, did an amazing job of getting everybody coordinated and into the shelter before the tornado hit.

What was the most frightening part? It was really scary for two reasons: not knowing what was going on where the tornado had actually hit, and knowing that a lot of our students, faculty, staff live in that area.

How are the recovery efforts going? The great thing about Oklahoma is that we know how to deal with catastrophes like this, everyone just jumps right in and gets to work on what needs to be done. That is why they call it the “Oklahoma Standard”.

Are all of your friends, family, players, coaches okay? Everyone I know is safe. One of our faculty members had some damage to his house and one of our All-American honorable mention freshmen lost his house (as did his brother). Thankfully there was no loss of life for anyone affiliated with our school.

Was this experience enough to cause you to move away in the future? No.  I am in it for the long haul. Seeing how everyone has responded to this tragedy and seeing the willingness and generosity of people to help others who they do not even know has been overwhelming.

If someone wishes to donate to the disaster relief fund , what kind of impact do you think their contribution would help make in Moore’s time of need? Monetary contributions are crucial right now. Our school is partnering with World Vision to provide things such as cleaning supplies, towels, toothpaste, soap, etc., to the tornado victims, in addition to providing housing to a lot of the out-of-state relief workers who have dropped by to help. All of these services cost money, and the recovery effort will go on for months and months to come. Any donation that people can send to the school will help Hillsdale continue to provide these services to the community. If anyone has any other questions on how they can help, they can contact me directly at mberokoff(at)yahoo.com.

Thank you for the opportunity to be able to tell our story. Sometimes smaller organizations do not get enough national attention but we still need as much help as we can get.

Berokoff on Coaching:

How did you first get into coaching? My first coaching job was for my brother’s sixth grade AAU team in Compton, California (one of the players was a kid named Tayshaun Prince!). I was the assistant coach and got to learn from a man named George Hunter.

You worked with the Los Angeles Rockfish AAU team where you coached more than 50 future Division One players.  Who was the best player who came through the Rockfish program? The best players that came through the Rockfish program were Andre Miller and Austin Croshere,  those are the two that most people would know about. We also had Justin Hawkins (first-team all-WAC in 2007), Julian Sensley (a Jordan Classic All-American), Landry Fields (formerly of Stanford, currently playing for the Toronto Raptors), and Russell Westbrook (2012 Olympic gold medalist).

In 2005 you were one of the basketball coordinators for the movie “Coach Carter”.  What was it like to work with Samuel L. Jackson, and what is the key to making basketball in the movies look like basketball in real life? Obviously, working with a legend like Samuel was a great experience, and he definitely portrayed the character of Ken Carter very well. The hardest part about making a basketball movie look realistic is working with actors who have never played basketball before because it takes time to train them. The greatest thing that we had going for us was that all the other players in the movie had college or professional experience, and the producers allowed us to have free-flowing games so that the action would seem realistic.

In the 2010 CIT as an administrative assistant for Coach Kerry Rupp at Louisiana Tech you beat Southern Miss before losing to eventual champion Missouri State.  What made Rupp such a good coach, and how good were the Bears that March? Coach Rupp was such a good coach due to how detailed he was in scouting, as well as being a defensive mastermind. A lot of people do not realize that for the majority of the year we were projected to be a #6-8 seed in the NCAA tourney. We ended up going to the WAC semifinals after beating Fresno State (led by current Indiana Pacer Paul George) in the first round of the WAC conference tourney. Injuries to Magnum Rolle (future NBA second-round pick) and Kyle Gibson (future D-League player) hurt our chances of going any further.  When we played Missouri State we were missing three starters. That being said, you could tell that Missouri State was on the verge of something very special. They had all the pieces needed to make a deep run, and the following year they had an outstanding season.

In 2012 you worked as the Director of Basketball Operations at Texas State, how do you think the team is adjusting to joining their third different conference in the past three years (Southland/WAC/Sun Belt)? I think the transition of going into a third different league is much more difficult than people understand. You have to familiarize yourself with different travel, arenas, scouts, and in general a different style of play and type of recruit. Moving into the Sun Belt will be hard because most people do not understand that it is a very competitive conference. I think the new staff will do a great job.

You helped establish the 1 Dream Foundation, a non-profit organization which provides educational opportunities for foreign athletes, what has the foundation been able to accomplish so far? 1Dream has been able to help a lot of kids get into college who otherwise would not have had the chance. The head of the program is Tom Mott, who has taken numerous groups over to Africa to do clinics, medical work, and basketball camps. Our two biggest success stories are Daniel Gomis (Oregon State) and Marco Bourgault (St. John’s). Another 1Dream player is Ibrahim Salih (Hill College), who was able to go to school here in America and has established his own charity foundation to help the less fortunate in his home country of Ghana.

How does coaching at a small Baptist college compare to coaching at a big secular institution? Coaching at a small school is different in that you really get a sense of family. Instead of 35,000 students like at Texas State, we only have about 250 students here in Moore. We see them every day on campus, we talk to their teachers, and we know what is going on in their lives. Everyone is in it for the same reason.

The Saints’ basketball program has won a whopping 7 national titles over the past 25 years: how have they been able to play so well for such a long stretch of time? Our location really helps us out with that. The state of Oklahoma is often overlooked by big-time D-1 schools, so even though we are a non-scholarship school we are able to really focus on some of the great players who are getting largely ignored or kids who are looking for a second chance after starting at a higher-level school. We have been fortunate enough to have had three players go on to play professionally overseas.