From pick and roles and give and goes, to high school state championships and a university program transition, you could say seniors John Karhoff and Caleb Steffensmeir have been through a lot together as teammates.
The two Mavs date back to their grade school days at St. Vincent De Paul.
“We went to the same grade school, he was a year younger than me [and] we never really played together in grade school or anything like that,” Karhoff said. “When you’re in grade school, you pretty much stick to your own grade. But it was mainly in high school when Caleb and I got to know each other and created a friendship through basketball.”
It was at Creighton Prep where the magic between the two former Jr. Blue Jays was first conjured.
“It was a great time,” Steffensmeir said. “Unfortunately Karhoff had torn his ACL my junior year which is the year we won the state championship, so that was disappointing. But he was a big part of us getting there and the prep program to where it was when we left. My sophomore year his junior year is when we really played together it was a great experience I’d say.”
At Prep, the two played under coach Josh Luedke, who has a record of 152-65 at Prep the last nine years including one state championship with the two now Mavs.
“I was a junior and Caleb came in as a sophomore on varsity. And our first year playing together we heard about him as a freshman, how good he was playing at the freshman level so we were excited to have a point guard come in and help us out on the varsity level,” Karhoff said. “Coach Luedke has done a great job over there, building that tradition up and Caleb and I were lucky to be a part of that when it was kind of at its peak there at Prep.”
After making their mark on the high school scene, it was time to think about what’s next. Karhoff was at UNO where he redshirted as a afreshman, but Steffensmeir, still at prep, had a decision to make.
“It was more so when I was a red shirt freshman here my first year,” Karhoff said. “I knew Caleb was a senior and was looking at colleges, and that was more when I was telling him how great of a place UNO was and cool it was. I talked to Luedke and Luedke was always in his ear, talking to him about [it]. I think that was one of the draws just that we could play together again and get something going here at UNO.”
Karhoff sold Steffensmeir and convinced him to join a program that was in his home city, and the two would go on be Mavs the next four years of their lives.
“He said sticking in Omaha and staying around the family is the big thing. I love Omaha, I kinda knew I wanted to stay at least close to Omaha so I could be close to my family. It really wasn’t too hard of a decision for me,” Steffensmeir said.
Having someone close he could trust helped solidify the decision.
“They were the first school to recruit me and knowing Karhoff obviously helped,” Steffensmeir said. “Knowing someone there and [getting] the insight on the coaches because the coaches can tell you anything you want to hear, but then when you get a players perspective. I knew Karhoff would be honest with me and tell me what it’s really like and what the environment’s really like there and not spoon feed it to me.”
The two have had a plethora of moments together. Whether it be traveling to play Michigan State, a mile stone for UNO, or the home opener of Ralston Arena, the two did it all together, and through that formed a bond that is a solid result of their seven year plus relationship.
“One of the big ones was our first year playing- he hit a buzzer beater against Chadron State. It was a deep three right at the buzzer,” Karhoff said. “Those memories of Caleb playing basketball here a lot of our connections on the court have been he’d throw it into me off the post and I’d kind of find him for a little dish that was kind of one of our go to plays and one of the plays we felt comfortable doing.”
As a guard and big man together, being on the same page is essential, not only do these two come from the same page but the same book.
“I think they have a lot of chemistry. You can tell on the floor that they’ve played a lot of basketball together because they always know where the other one’s going to be. They know how to play off each other whether it’s ball screens or passes, give and goes it seems like they can kind of read each other’s minds a little bit,” said Derrin Hansen, head coach of UNO Men’s basketball.
With at least seven years together on the hardwood, it’d be impossible not to be friends. The two have cherished what has become of their relationship because of basketball.
“I consider Caleb a really good friend, after basketball is done we’re still going to stay in touch and hang out together. I do consider him a good friend as your chemistry grows on the court it also grows off the court,” Karhoff said.
A chemistry that was strengthened through the roller coaster that is division reclassification.
“Definitely if I would have just gone to UNO and not play basketball, we probably wouldn’t have been as close, wouldn’t have been as good friends, but we’ll continue to be good friends the rest of our lives,” Steffensmeir said.
When it’s all said and done, these two have made their mark at UNO to say the least. Karhoff, has become the 34th player to score over 1,000 points at UNO. Coming in as a D-2 recruit playing against well-seasoned D-1 programs surely puts Karhoff in consideration for the “Mount Rushmore” of UNO Basketball Steffensmeir, a true point guard to the fullest, who has school records in assists at 12th all time, did his part to push this program onward.
“It’s great being around them every day,” Hansen said. “I’m going to miss those guys like that that have really made our program and have been through a lot here and really helped get us through this transition. Between those two and Matt Hagerbaumer, it’s just been huge what those guys have done. We’ll be forever indebted to those three.”
Don’t count on these two to hang their sneakers up yet, the Prep Alumni league is right around the corner. Karhoff is being highly recruited. Steffensmeir wants to guard the league’s new post, who he claims has his moves memorized. Nonetheless these Mavs will continue to scrap and play. The competition won’t stop.
“Caleb’s dad is in the league so it’s pretty competitive,” Karhoff said. “He can shoot it.”