Friday, December 27, 2013

Best MAAC Stories: No. 27, Loyola Men's Turnaround

Here's another in the series identifying the "Terrific 32," the top basketball-related stories in the previous 32 years of the MAAC's history.

NO. 27


How far had the Loyola men's basketball fallen?

Its Ratings Percentage Index was dead last among all Division I programs at the end of the 2003-04 season.

Attendance for home games rarely approached four figures that year, one in which Loyola put up a 1-27 record and avoided a winless season only by a late-January six-point victory over Marist.

It had gotten so bad that former head coach Scott Hicks spoke about his inability to bring in local players, revealing that Baltimore-area standouts would accept any other scholarship offer to avoid attending Loyola. He said that players perceived having to play at Loyola to be an embarrassment.

That 1-27 record marked the 10th consecutive season of sub-.500 play by the men's team. The Greyhounds' five-year record from 1999-2000 through 2003-04 was an abysmal 23-118, the worst five-year overall record of any MAAC program to that point.

And, then, Hicks was fired and replaced by Jimmy Patsos.

Patsos' first year produced a modest five-victory improvement to 6-22.

At one point at a game in which Loyola was losing by a sizable margin, fans behind the Greyhounds' bench heckled Patsos for his team's continued poor play.

The always outspoken Patsos turned to the hecklers to deliver the message: "You can boo us now, but wait until I get my `guys' in here."

His guys started arriving as transfers that season, and became eligible in Patsos' second season.

Among those were Maryland transfers guard Andre Collins and 6-10 center Hassan Fofano. Collins averaged a MAAC-best 26.1 points in Patsos' second season, Fofano was a defensive presence in the middle and averaged 7.8 points and 5.5 rebounds ... and Loyola finished 15-13, its first above-.500 finish in 12 years.

That marked the turnaround of what, over the previous six seasons, had been the conference's losingest teaam over a six-year span in MAAC history.

Patsos continued to bring in quality transfers to keep Loyola moving forward after that. His `guys' included the likes of Providence transfers guards Gerald Brown and Jamal Barney, both big scorers, Notre Dame transfer forward Omari Israel, another key Maryland transfer in forward Shane Walker and a standout forward from Northeastern in forward Erik Etherly.

The program augmented the transfers with some strong recruiting, some of the recruited players even coming, finally, from the Baltimore area.

Patsos not only brought winning records back to Loyola, but restored the program's reputation to the point where it was becoming attractive to join the team rather than the embarrassment it once was.

After Patsos' first-season 6-22 finish his teams had three straight winning records. Then came a drop to back-to-back seasons of 12-20 and 13-17. Next was a 15-15 record (2010-11).

And, then, came even better things.

Over the past two seasons, Loyola's final two in the MAAC before opting to join the Patriot League, the Greyhounds finished 24-9 in 2011-12 and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 1993-94 season, when the late Skip Prosser was the team's coach.

Last season brought a 23-12 record and a second consecutive national post-season tournament, this time the tournament.

It marked the first time in program history it had gone to national post-season tournament in back-to-back years.

Its 24 victories in 2011-12 was the first 20-win season since the 1948-49 season and the 47 victories over the 2011-12, 2012-13 seasons were the most by any MAAC team over that span.

The era of Patsos marked what might have been the best turnaround of any program in league history.

Ironically, both Loyola and Patsos moved on since the end of the 2012-13 season.

Loyola joined the Patriot League. And, Patsos successfully chased an opportunity to remain in the MAAC, eventually hired by Siena this past April.

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