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The Antelope

Kropp leaves a lasting Loper athletic legacy

Kropp, right, was drafted by the Washington Bullets in 1975 and played a season each with the Bullets and Chicago Bulls. Courtesy Photo

After 43 years as a player, coach and professor at UNK, Tom Kropp is retiring at semester’s end. 

It all began in 1971, when Kropp came to Kearney State College to play football and basketball. During his basketball career he averaged a double double with 22 points and 11 rebounds over his career, the only Loper to do that. When his four years as a stellar college athlete were over, Kropp played in the NBA for both the Washington Bullets and Chicago Bulls. He was also drafted to the NFL by the Pittsburgh Steelers.  

After he retired from the NBA, he earned his masters from Kearney State, and then played four years of professional basketball in Belgium. When his playing days ended, he returned to Kearney in 1983 and has stayed here since. 

Kropp played for UNK Hall of Fame coach Jerry Hueser. When he came back to Kearney Hueser welcomed him with open arms onto the men’s basketball coaching staff. 

“What that man did for me probably meant more than anything else because I got to come back where I had my roots,” Kropp said. “That was probably the biggest break I ever had.” 

He was the assistant head coach from 1983-1990, co-head coach from 1990-1996, head coach from 1996-2005 and then served again as the co-head coach from 2005-2015 when he retired from coaching. Kropp finished with a career head coaching record of 482-245 along with 11 NCAA tournament appearances. 

Not only has he been a huge part in the coaching and playing aspect of the college, but has also served on the KSS faculty since 1983, and since retiring from coaching in 2015 has taught full time. 

He says that teaching meant just as much to him as coaching did. 

“I’m very proud of what we accomplished as a basketball team, but I’m just as proud of my record as a teacher,” Kropp said. “The thing I will miss most is the relationship with the students. My relationships with my students mean just as much to me as my relationship with the players.” 

Kropp will finish his Loper tenure with many accolades, including being inducted into the NAIA, Nebraska Football, Nebraska High School, and the National High School Athletic Hall of Fame. He was also named by Sports Illustrated in 2004 as one of the state’s 10 greatest sports celebrities. 

After his retirement this spring, Kropp plans to move to Lincoln with his wife Sonja to be closer with some members of his family, but still plans to make trips to Kearney to come to different events. 

Kropp says the people have meant the most to him. 

“When I look back, I look at the people that went overboard to help me out,” Kropp said. “I’ve always been kind of a people person and just to have the friendships I have with the townspeople as well as the people here at the University is what I cherish the most by far.” 

There is no doubt that Kropp will not only be remembered as a great player and coach, but more importantly as a great person who had a great impact on everyone he interacted with in his time in Kearney. 

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Jon Willis
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