In basketball, just as life, change is never easy, and is often downright painful. But if you can survive the early obstacles and pick yourself back up after falling, change can also lead to a brighter future.
Loyola-Maryland basketball is hoping for just that.
Two years ago, two teams announced they were leaving their respective conferences and moving into the Patriot League, with Boston University parting ways with the America East Conferenceand Loyola-Maryland splitting from the MAAC.
Interestingly enough, the Greyhounds and Terriers faced off against one another in the CIT tournament at the end of the season, with Loyola hosting and defeating BU. Ironically, following the game, it looked as if the Greyhounds might be in an even better position to hit the Patriot League ground running than the Terriers.
Then head coach Jimmy Patsos left for Siena. The Greyhounds allowed Patsos’ incoming recruits out of their commitments, and almost to a man they followed the head coach to Siena, leaving new head coach G.G. Smith behind to pick up the pieces and build again.
“We had to start all over,” said Smith.
As a result, Smith and the remaining players had to make do with what they had for their inaugural season in the Patriot League. Unfortunately, the end result was not of the Hollywood, against all odds underdog script, but rather the cold, biting reality of college basketball: An 11-19 overall record, 6-12 record in conference play and an early exit from their inaugural Patriot League Tournament.
Following the season, Smith and his staff had to reevaluate their recruiting efforts, making sure they found players that would not only be able to compete on the hardwood, but also in the much more rigorous classrooms of the Patriot League. Yet despite the much Academic Index, Smith saw the Patriot League as a huge help in landing new players.
“It’s huge us coming to the Patriot League recruitment wise,” said Smith. “Coming from the MAAC, you don’t have the same type of reputation as far as academics, the university standards. You really have to get strong student-athletes. You’re looking at great schools with great kids that want to excel in the classroom and on the court.
“They get the best of both worlds in this conference,” said Smith.
In an effort to capitalize on the notoriety of the Patriot League, Smith and his staff have begun to expand on the regions they recruit.
“We’re recruiting nationally, we’ve been recruiting the west coast pretty hard,” said Smith. “We’ve been to Kansas City, Texas, Indiana, down to Florida.”
After a strong year of recruiting last year, Smith feels that the class he brought in this season has laid down the foundation for the next few years at Loyola.
“Our ‘true class’ is probably the freshman class that we have right now, in Andre Walker, Colton Bishop, Chancellor Barnard, Cam Gregory, and then our walk-on, Matt Staubi,” said Smith.
Interestingly enough, one of his team’s best players and top recruits this season was not the result of a nation wide search, but rather he came from Loyola’s backyard in forward Cam Gregory, a native of Waldor, Maryland, just 60 miles away.
“Colton Bishop and Cam Gregory were guys we established early when I first got the job,” said Smith.
Gregory is the type of student athlete who, according to Smith, embodies what the team is looking for in a recruit both on and off the court, looking to do everything and everything he can for the benefit of his team and school
Last year during his senior year of high school, he helped put together a fundraiser for St. Jude’s Cancer Research Hospital. Leading up to home game at his school, he helped sell t-shirts, wristbands, and food, with all of the proceeds going to St. Jude’s. The fundraising efforts continued through one of his games, and then after raising over $800, he and his family went to the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee where he took a tour and presented a check with the money he raised.
Despite getting looks from schools in the Ivy League, and many other Patriot League schools, Gregory chose Loyola.
“I was comfortable with the coaching staff, the academic challenge that was presented Loyola, and just the opportunity and chance to be taught by a coach like G.G. Smith,” said Gregory.
Gregory was not the only freshman looking forward to learning from Smith. Point guard Andrew Walker had narrowed his choice for school to BU and Loyola before ultimately choosing the Greyhounds. What it came down to: coaching. When assistant coach Carmen Maciariello left BU for George Washington, Walker, a Bronx native chose to go south to Loyola.
“G.G. was a new coach and I wanted to see what he had to offer,” said Walker. “He was a point guard when he played so that had a big influence.”
Despite a tough start to the season, Smith has seen a great deal of promise from his recruits, who were thrown right into the fire of college basketball. So far, Walker has played 63.8-percent of the team’s minutes, with Gregory a close second, playing in 63.6 percent, while Barnard has played in 38.5-percent of the team’s minutes. Bishop has played in 14.9-percent, and Matt Staubi has played in two-percent. Gregory currently ranks second on the team in rebounds at 7.1 per game, while Walker ranks second in assists at 2.2 per game to go with 8.5 points per contest.
“Playing time became a big factor for us especially with our record from last year, we were 11-19. We recruited guys to come in and play. They would have to learn on the run.”
There is still plenty of basketball to play for Loyola, but Smith feels that his players are making strides to getting better.
“Those guys are learning, it’s a learning process,” said Smith. “As a coach we got to be urgent, we want these guys to play well, but at the same time you have to be patient.”
With that, Smith knows this class has the talent and is going to be the core of his team for years to come, it’s just a matter of time and them earning experience.
“We have to learn how to win,” he said. “The thing about this group is they haven’t learned how to win, haven’t handled success very well. We won against Fairfield, had a great game against them and then lost by 20-plus against Navy. We just have to learn how to win, how to get better.”