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Meet Concordia's first 2,000-point scorer: Tom Raabe

By Jacob Knabel on Jan. 4, 2024 in Men's Basketball

Concordia Men's Basketball will celebrate 100 years of the program's existence during the weekend of February 2-3, 2024. For more information on the 100-year celebration, click HERE.

As a 5-foot-11 freshman out of the Milwaukee area, Tom Raabe appeared at the initial men’s basketball team meeting in the fall of 1967 as one of roughly 60 young men hoping to earn a spot on the Concordia Bulldogs roster for that upcoming season. If you wanted to play for then Head Coach Stanley Brassie, you made the commitment to be ready twice per week at 6 a.m. to run east on Hillcrest Drive, the street that borders the very north end of the Concordia campus. The morning runs were a requirement prior to the start of official practice in the middle of October.

Purely from the eyeball test, there was nothing that necessarily separated Raabe from the others vying for playing time on the hardwood. Little did anyone know that Raabe would graduate four years later as the most prolific scorer in the history of the program and hold onto such an honorable distinction for more than three decades.

“There were a whole lot of guys who wanted to play, and everybody showed up to run,” said the 1971 graduate Raabe. “When we started practice, he (Brassie) cut a few times, and we were eventually down to 12. A couple weeks before the season started, we hadn’t installed the offense yet and he called five guys out to run the offense, so we could show everyone the plays. I remember how thrilled I was when he chose me to be out there. I was a freshman and everybody else was juniors and seniors. That indicated to me I had a chance to start. I started the first game and then I started every game I was there.”

That would be 101 games to be exact. Raabe never missed a single contest during the 1967-68 through 1970-71 seasons. In an era prior to the adoption of the 3-point arc, Raabe became one of the first Nebraska small college players to surpass 2,000 career points. As the 1971 Concordia yearbook stated, “After placing on the CIT all-tournament team, Raabe received from vigorous friends and admirers possibly the healthiest standing ovation in Seward history. He leaves his 2,016 (points) mark and will not be quickly forgotten.”

The described adulation came after what Raabe described as a relatively modest high school basketball career. The venture to Seward brought Raabe nearly 600 miles away from his hometown of Wauwatosa, Wis. He spent his prep years at the all-boys Concordia High School in Milwaukee, where he became a starter midway through his junior season. Raabe estimates that he averaged somewhere in the range of 10 to 12 points per game.

The Lutheran connection made Concordia Teachers College a fitting option for Raabe when it came time to decide his future. His father grew up in Wisner, Neb., and the family had frequently visited Nebraska for vacations. Raabe’s mom even encouraged Tom to look at attending college far from home as a means to further his personal growth. At that time, the recruiting process was a one-sided undertaking.

Recalls Raabe, “There wasn’t any recruiting. No coaches contacted me – or any representatives of Seward. Brassie was the new coach when I got there. I just wanted to go to Seward. I wanted to play basketball, that’s for sure. When he called an interest meeting, I was one of about 60 guys who showed up that September. Everybody did the running because we were all unknown factors, other than a couple of guys who were on the team in previous years. There were a whole lot of guys who wanted to play.”

But there was only one Tom Raabe, the leading scorer among all Nebraska NAIA institutions his senior year. According to a Lincoln Journal Star article in 1970, Raabe had broken five school records as just a sophomore. As a senior, Raabe was recognized by the Omaha World-Herald as one of its Nebraska “College All-Stars.” At the time of Raabe’s graduation, his 2,016 points were just off the Nebraska collegiate state record of 2,032, as reported by the Lincoln Journal Star at the time. The Kearney Hub described Raabe as the “smallest man on the squad and perhaps the best hustler.”

Raabe attributes his rise as a basketball player, at least in part, to his summers spent on the “schoolyards” of Milwaukee. That’s where Raabe gravitated towards pickup games that would sometimes feature other college basketball players who were on summer break. Says Raabe, “Other guys who played high school or college ball would come to these different schoolyards and every night there would be 20 guys playing basketball. It was call your own fouls – and there were no nets. It was very competitive and pretty good players. I was always religious about playing at the playground.”

The ‘playground’ style translated to the college game for Raabe, who eclipsed 2,000 career points in the second to last game of his career. That achievement came at home in front of a packed PE Gym crowd at the 1971 Concordia Invitational Tournament. The Bulldogs steamrolled Concordia of St. Paul, 91-60, on that momentous day. At one point, the game was stopped and Raabe was presented a basketball to commemorate his 2,000th point. He reached that figure while scoring from a variety of spots on the floor.

Raabe once tallied 43 as a sophomore versus Dana College and later went wild with 40 points in a matchup with Westmar College during his senior campaign. He averaged an impressive 22.3 points per game in his final season as a Bulldog and earned praise from his second college head coach, Robert Baden (head coach from 1969-73) for his defensive improvement. An account of the time wrote that his career culminated in “what Coach Baden said was the best defensive action of his career and his ascension into a complete player. As captain for the Bulldogs, he ardently filled his leadership role and continued his previous three-year tradition of excellence.”

Raabe scored in bunches while operating within an offense that wasn’t necessarily tailored solely for him. As Raabe joked, “I did shoot a lot – possibly too much for my teammates. I was an outside shooter. I drove to the basket when I could, but we were playing against a lot of zones. We played a continuous type of ‘shuffle’ offense where all five guys played all five spots. You shuffled to a different spot with every pass. Even the small guys would end up underneath or in the corner, so I got shots there occasionally. Most of my shots were in the 18-to-20 foot range.”

With Raabe’s scoring prowess at the forefront, Concordia began to gain traction as a program and increased its win total to nine for the 1970-71 season. The Bulldogs earned victories over foes like Midland, Yankton, Sioux Falls and Westmar. Classmates of Raabe and fellow ’71 graduates included the likes of Jan Lohmeyer, Brian Naber and Rod Giesselmann. A projected starting five shown in a 1971 Lincoln Journal Star article featured Raabe along with Kent Berkeland, Jim Dahlke, Kevin Kreger and Ron Schroeder. Raabe fondly recalled playing 1-on-1 with Lohmeyer after practices.

Eventually, the basketball glory gave way to Raabe’s professional career, which has taken him on a journey to places across the country. For the past nine years, he has called the Phoenix area his home. Raabe continues to work as a copy editor for a publishing house. His first call following college was to San Diego, and he’s also lived in places such as Australia and Michigan and previously worked as a newspaper reporter. Just out of college, he used his basketball talents as a member of Athletes in Action, an organization with a strong Christian mission that often played against NCAA Division I schools in exhibition games.

Said Raabe, “I didn’t have my heart set on any kind of career when I got to college. The prospect of teaching grew on me as I went through college. I was influenced by everyone else who was also going to be a teacher. I ended up teaching school like so many.”

Along the way, Raabe has kept up with the basketball program. He’s stayed connected while being inducted into the inaugural Concordia Athletics Hall of Fame class of 1994 and later receiving an invite to return to Concordia for an athletic banquet after Jon Ziegler broke Raabe’s program scoring record in 2007. Raabe has also sometimes bumped into legendary head coach Grant Schmidt at his current home church, Christ Church in Phoenix (Schmidt’s hometown).

Both Schmidt and Raabe can speak to the days when the old PE Gym would fill to capacity. Just 53 short years ago, the crowd went wild for Raabe in appreciation of a milestone that was incredibly rare both then and now. The Milwaukee native arrived in Seward simply hopeful of a spot on the roster and left with a legacy that has stood the test of time. Said Raabe of reaching 2,000 points, “That was a thrill for me.”