Glass cases stand in the north entrance of Assembly Hall.
One of the shelves holds seven championships from the IU men’s soccer team.
A ramp on the left side leads to the soccer offices, where former IU forward Aleksey Korol is making photocopies in late April, three months after returning to IU.
But, if he needs a reminder, two of the championships he won are only a few yards away.
Korol, a former Big Ten Player of the Year, returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach in February, less than 10 years after winning his second NCAA championship.
Even as a professional athlete, Korol knew he would return to IU as a coach.
“I always thought Indiana would be the perfect situation for me,” he said.
Originally from the Ukraine, Korol came to IU after four years of high school in upstate New York.
At IU, he became one of the most efficient players of the 1990s. Korol was the first player in a decade to net 50 points.
“Soccer America” named him to its All-Decade team for the ’90s.
After playing professionally in the MLS, United Soccer League and Major Indoor Soccer League, Korol took a job coaching at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He replaced former teammate and assistant coach Phil Presser, who had gotten a job at IU and recommended the assistant coaching job at UIC to Korol.
When assistant coach Todd Yeagley left in December to become the head coach at Wisconsin, Korol came home.
His return is well-timed.
In the past three seasons, IU has struggled offensively. From 2006 to 2008, the Hoosiers have broken the record for least goals scored in a season.
“Aleksey was brought in to increase offense,” Presser said.
After his decade-long hiatus, he will become part of another IU soccer season that begins Sept. 4 against St. John’s, who defeated the Hoosiers in the NCAA tournament in 2008.
IU coach Mike Freitag, who was an assistant coach when Korol was a player, said Korol was one of the first people mentioned as a replacement.
“Aleksey fit in perfectly,” Freitag said. “I think he fit the void we had – the need we had.”
Presser and Freitag both said Korol’s candor is helping the players.
“Sometimes coaches want to sugarcoat the truth,” Freitag said. “Aleksey tells it like it is.”
Korol also has the pedigree and credibility he earned while playing for IU legend Jerry Yeagley.
“He’s always got that over their head,” Freitag said. “If he tells them something, it’s ‘I’ve won a ring, have you?’ That’s part of the whole reason I brought him back.”
It took Korol a few years to let go of his professional dreams. Now, he is ready to lead a group of young players trying to bring an eighth championship to IU.
“I’m trying to give the guys much more productive information, instead of competing with them every day on the field,” Korol said.
Because he is still close to them in age – almost 20 years younger than Freitag – Korol is more like a big brother to the team.
“I don’t feel old,” he said. “I can still play and jump in a lot of activities.”
The players and coaches agree Korol’s energy lifts the staff.
“Everyone seems lighter, happier,” Presser said. “He just brings a cheer that keeps you going every day.”
But he is still a competitor at heart. Korol said he was taught that nothing was ever good enough, which carries into his coaching.
“If he’s not on your team, he won’t talk to you,” Presser said. “That’s how competitive he is.”
In his six months back at IU, Korol has brought a fresh view to the coaching staff.
Presser credits Korol for Alec Purdie’s emergence. The redshirt junior didn’t play much until the spring season, when Korol recognized the forward’s talents.
Purdie said he’s enjoyed having a coach just for the offense.
“When he’s around, we’re nothing but sponges,” Purdie said. “We’re just soaking everything he has to say.”