It took ten long, agonizing days before G.G. Smith knew his fate. He patiently waited a week and a half to see if he’d become the next head coach of the Loyola Greyhounds and replace his former boss Jimmy Patsos, who took a more lucrative job at Siena.
Of course, Smith eventually landed his first head coaching gig, yet there was a lot of work to be done for a team transferring to the Patriot League. Patsos took most of his coaching staff with him. Several high upside recruits, including Lavon Long and Marquis Wright who both instantly showed promise during a summer trip to Canada, also headed to upstate New York after previously committing to Loyola.
Sans a staff and their original recruiting class, Smith had little time to celebrate his promotion. He needed to find assistants and freshmen, and it was already two weeks into April. What made it even more difficult was that four trusted upperclassmen – Erik Etherly, Robert Olson, Anthony Winbush, and Julius Brooks – were now Greyhound alums.
“We lose a lot of rebounding, we lose a lot of scoring, and we lose a lot of girth inside,” said Smith. In other words, 55.2% of their total points, 60.7% of their rebounds, and 48.8% of their assists had graduated.
Smith can take solace in the fact that his senior guard, Dylon Cormier, will be sticking around for one final season. Cormier, an All-MAAC first team selection for the 2012-13 season, led Loyola last season in both scoring (16.4 ppg) and efficiency rating. While a quick glance at his shooting percentages don’t appear to be all-conference worthy, the guard posted an impressive 109.7 offensive rating, which was buoyed by a low turnover rate and an uncanny knack for drawing fouls. Cormier’s value goes beyond pure statistics.
“The player that’s going to be the backbone of our team is Dylon Cormier,” answered Smith when asked about his best player. “I expect him to be a leader. He’s been working on his ball handling, off-the-ball defense and obviously he’s been working on his shooting. He’s been a great leader this summer, and I expect him to lead us to a Patriot League championship.”
With three of Loyola’s top four scorers no longer in Baltimore, Cormier will surely need help from his teammates in order to relax most of the defensive focus heading his way. One candidate, R.J. Williams, will be starting opposite of Cormier at the point guard position.
After missing the first 16 games of the 2012-13 season due to an undisclosed violation, Williams found his groove during MAAC play. The junior had an assist to turnover ratio of 1.9, and showed a willingness to commit himself on the defensive side of the ball. Both Williams and Cormier posted splendid steal rates of 3.1% and 3.2%, respectively, while impressively limiting their fouls committed.
With the momentum of a solid second half of last season behind him, Williams is poised take on a larger role at Loyola. His head coach wholeheartedly agrees.
“R.J. has to be an extension of me,” said Smith. “I’m going to demand more from him than anyone else on the team. He’s ready to take on that challenge. He’s ready to take advantage of this opportunity and show that not only is he a great point guard and he has great defensive leadership skills, but I also want him to score more.”
Backing up Cormier and Williams at the “1” and “2” will be Denzel Brito, who will further stabilize the Greyhounds’ backcourt after sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer rules. After an arduous journey to find his way, the former Loyola University Chicago point guard will shift to the role of combo guard, utilizing his ability to deftly drive the lane.
While the veteran backcourt appears to be in good hands – you can also throw in three-point specialist Tyler Hubbard into the mix – the frontcourt is more of an unknown. Of the returning players, only senior Jordan Latham played more than one third of the team’s available minutes, and he barely met that threshold. Smith may be “a little nervous about the rebounding,” yet he’s cautiously optimistic that Latham and sophomores Franz Rasmann and Jarred Jones will step up in the absence of Etherly and Winbush, two players who together averaged 22.7 ppg and 12.7 rpg last season.
“I told (Latham, Rasmann, and Jones) they have to be our post threats,” said Smith. “Anytime you get the ball in the post, they have to look to score and they have to rebound. And at the same time they have to be our best post defenders too.”
At 6’8″, Rasmann profiles as a prototypical Patriot League big man. In limited action, Rasmann posted a 101.0 offensive rating, not an easy thing to do as a MAAC rookie, thanks to a two-point field goal percentage of 54.0%. He, like Latham and Jones, must significantly improve his defensive effeciency to stay on the floor. The trio combined to commit approximately 17 fouls per 40 minutes for the 2012-13 season.
Swingman Eric Laster also has an opportunity to start at the “3” for the Greyhounds, due to his athleticism and ability to get after it on the defensive end.
“I think (Laster) has the highest ceiling on our team, because he’s so athletic,” gushed Smith. “He can really shoot the ball. He’ll probably be matched up on the other team’s best perimeter guy, so he’s going to be a defensive stopper but at the same time he’s going to give us a little more extra scoring in that role. I expect him to shine.”
In addition, Loyola welcomes on five freshmen – three of them as red-shirts – although it remains to be seen how much they’ll immediately contribute. The group includes 6’9″ power forwards Josh Forney (“he’s going to come in and be a big body”) and Nick Gorsky (reminds Smith of Michael Tuck, who had a terrific 2007-08 season as a Greyhound), 5’9″ point guard Jevon Patton (“he’s going to be a great game manager”) and guards Sean Tuohy, Jr. and Damion Rashford.
Overall, the roster is made up of nine underclassmen with one year of experience or less. How this roster transitions into the wide open Patriot League remains to be seen, but they should be in the thick of the race, at the very least. G.G. Smith has been preparing for this moment for quite a while, and under the tutelage of Patsos, he’s most definitely prepared.
Ryan Peters covers the Patriot League for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride. Check out the other Patriot League profiles written this offseason: Navy | Holy Cross | Bucknell