By Corey Johns, So Much Sports Baltimore
The first time Andre Walker stepped onto the court for the Loyola (MD) you could tell he was going to be a special player who would one day compete for All-Conference recognition.
His very first collegiate game was in Lubbock, Texas against the Big 12’s Texas Tech. He came off the bench and led the Greyhounds with 17 points in 24 minutes. To nobody’s surprise Walker has taken off. He was an All-Patriot League rookie team pick that year. Last year he progressed to being an All-Patriot League Second Team pick. Coming into his junior season, Walker’s continued his rise and was picked as a member of the preseason All-Patriot League First Team.
With the graduation of three starters from last year’s team (Franz Rassman, Eric Laster and Tyler Hubbard) there is little question that the Greyhounds are now Walker’s team and he has to be the guy to lead them to all of their success. Injuries, lack of depth and a lot of youth hurt the Greyhounds last season as they went a paltry 9-21, but they had a much better end to the season than beginning. Eight of Loyola’s wins came in conference play; it set a foundation for the team to build on. And along with Walker, Loyola has some now experienced players they can really lean on, as well as a dynamic freshman class that had upped the overall athleticism of the team.
Returning with Walker are redshirt senior Jarred Jones, an undersized but tough-as-nails post player who can play both power forward and center, and juniors Cam Gregor and Chancellor Bernard, both of whom have taken significant steps and have shown the potential to be able to take over bigger roles on the team. Their freshman class was a nation-wide group; with players coming in from California and Texas as well as the surrounding recruiting footprint that has already been established.
This year’s Loyola almost certainly should be significantly improved from last year’s squad and once the freshman start figuring out what it takes to play at the college level — say, by the time conference play rolls around — the Greyhounds should be ready to take off.
Loyola (MD) head coach GG Smith and star guard Andre Walker both sat down with So Much Sports Baltimore to preview this season.
Loyola head men’s basketball coach GG Smith on…
Excitement for the upcoming season:
“It’s always exciting this time of the year. Carolina-Villanova was early April and it’s here already. It comes by quick. We have spring workouts, summer school, summer recruiting, preseason conditioning and preseason basketball and it’s here. We’re excited and I’m just happy the season is finally here. Especially off a tough season last year where we only won nine games I think the guys that are coming back have some new energy, want to do something special and I think they are ready for it.”
Expectations after having eight of his team’s wins coming in conference play:
“This year we got some key guys back. Andre Walker and Jarred Jones; those two guys should be our catalysts the rest of the year. Andre Walker was a preseason All-Patriot League first team pick, shot the ball extremely well towards the end of last season, coming off his freshman season when he didn’t really shoot the ball well at all. The thing is growing a lot and maturity for him; being a point guard, knowing when to score and knowing when to facilitate the ball. He’s starting to learn that. He’s been good. Jarred Jones, the biggest key for him is just finishing off the season. We’re going to watch his minutes early on in the season to make sure he can finish off the season. Last year he missed the last six games of the season. The year before he got injured in the third game of the season and missed the rest of the year. The thing for him is his longevity and making sure he’ll be here. Cam Gregor and Chancellor Bernard are the other two guys who played a lot as sophomores last year. We just need significant improvement with those guys to be the third guy. Right now we don’t know who is going to be that third guy. It might be one of those two, it might be one of our freshmen. We just don’t know yet.”
The benefit of Andre Walker’s experience as a starting point guard his freshmen and sophomore seasons:
“Having a guy like Andre around is very influential for our team, especially for our six new freshmen. Having him being around, showing them how to do things off the court and what it is to be a college basketball player, telling the guys what to expect from us as a coaching staff. The biggest thing is he has to be an extension of me on the court and he’s starting to learn that. He has a chance to play after this level too so he understands that he has to have a good couple years here. He’s our toughest player, our hardest worker and sometimes our most vocal. When your hardest worker is also your best player it makes my job a lot easier.”
“He’s a thin guy, not a bulky guy. He’s a 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8 four man, doesn’t handle the ball well enough to play [on the wing] but can play [center} if we want to go small. The thing about Jarred is he does all the intangibles and all the little things you need him to. He’s not afraid to sacrifice his body. He’s always looking to take charges, always the first one to dive on the floor, always sacrificing for the team. We need those intangibles from him. He has the pedigree and comes from a great athletic background and like him coming back for his fifth year.”
Having experience as a team despite losing three key players from last year:
“It’s real important. It’s been a tough year but Patriot League wise we’re showing an increase, winning a game or more each year; understanding the time of play, understanding what type of other players are in this league. I don’t know if they had that grasp of what it takes when you’re watching the Bucknells and Lehighs but they understand what it takes now and just have to go out there and do it and show it. That comes game after game and after practice.”
Who has stepped up to provide outside shooting:
“Nevell Provo and James Fives are our returning sophomores. Nevell, he’s more of a pure point guard than Andre and need him to come in and run our offense and don’t turn the ball over. James Fives we brought in to be a shooter and he did not shoot the ball well at all last year. [Matt] Staubi is a walk-on and showed some promise the last couple of games of the year. Those are guys we can try to use but since we are so deep, we have six new freshmen coming in, we can tinker with it. We have a lot of options. Last year we just didn’t have a lot of options.”
Getting recruits from across the country (California and Texas):
“Going into the Patriot League we’re more national now. Back when we were in the Metro Atlantic Conference it was more of an east coast, northeast type of thing but when you’re associated with academic schools like Lehigh and Lafayette, Navy and Army; kids out west, if they want to come to an Ivy League school and can’t make it to an Ivy League school they come to a Patriot League school. We’re not afraid to go anywhere. We’ll recruit nationwide.”
The freshman class:
“Kevaughn Scott from Southern California has been a big surprise. He’s kind of an undersized four-five man but plays extremely hard, really athletic. Dylan Gollihar, 7-footer is hurt right now and out with a bone bruise but he’ll be back in a couple of week, but we need his length and rim protection and he can also step out and shoot a three. Andrew Kostecka, local kid from Montgomery County. If we had a game today I would probably start him at [shooting guard]. Athletic, can shoot the ball, has a good knack defensively as far as getting steals and getting buckets in transition. Ian Langendoerfer is probably our best scorer. Chucky Champion is probably our best combo guard. Austin Harriott is the kind of guy who reminds me of Roosevelt Jones of Butler the last few years because he can play the point but also play [power forward] because he’s got that frame. He’s wide and strong, only like 6’4” but can do a lot of things. This year we have a lot of depth and size, especially at guard position so we can do multiple things, which is always a plus.”
Dylan Gollihar playing inside next to Jarred Jones:
“When it comes back he’s definitely a guy we’re going to use and probably play a bit more zone than usual because he’s at the rim and is seven feet and can alter some shots. You can play them both because Jarred is not as much of a shooter and more of an inside threat and Dylan can play out on the perimeter because he can step out and make a three and bring the other big guy out of the paint and open up some middle drives. We can play them together and make mismatches. We can play small, big, go up and down the court. We can do a lot of different things.”
Kevaughn Scott and what he brings:
“He’s very athletic. Even with his size he’s got a pretty good knack of blocking shots. He leads our team in the preseason in blocked shots and also leads our big guys in deflections. He’s really active, gets out there in the passing lanes, can block shots, is strong enough to push guys off the block. We need his strength for sure, and his size.”
The increase of athleticism on this team:
“This group has great size, great athleticism and great length. We want to be a pressing team and want to create some turnovers, which we haven’t done the last couple of years, we were dead last in steals. If you want to create it you need some size, need some length. Our new guys can do that. We’re on ball a lot on defense, getting in the passing lanes and hopefully we’ll get some deflections.”
Junior point guard Andre Walker on…
His excitement for the upcoming season:
“It’s a new year and completely different than last year. I got a bigger role on the team now. Some people I got to guide them; got a lot of good freshmen. The intensity is there in practice. Everybody want’s to win. We’re all on the same page.”
“I’m happiest when I’m on the court. That’s the best time of my life when I’m inside this rectangle. I can’t wait. This is going to be a good year. I have faith in our team. We put in work as a team and individually. We all know we can do something special and I think it’s going to be a good year.”
If he feels pressure to be a leader:
“The role is hard but it isn’t that hard. The pressure isn’t really there, it’s just doing the right thing and making sure your guys are engaged and I’m pretty sure I put a fire under a lot of my teammates. I think that’s the biggest part of being a leader is making sure your teammates want to be around. Contagious behavior is being a leader.”
Having two years starting experience already at point guard:
“It helps me with myself knowing that I’ve seen this before. Being that we’ve tried to turn around our program a bit I know what it’s like to lose and we don’t want to go back there. I’ve played those minutes losing and now I know what not to do.”
Key to this year’s success:
“This year we just have to be consistent. The biggest thing is consistency, whether it’s making shots or diving on the floor; we have to be the hardest working team each game. Consistency isn’t about executing plays but it’s about doing the little things.”
On what’ he’s personally done this offseason and what he focused on improving:
“I worked on a lot of pick-and-roll. I played pickup with some pro guys, like (Detroit Pistons Forward) Tobias Harris and Chevonne Mullis (who plays overseas). I did a lot of pick-and-rolls and basically trying to figure out where the ball needs to be. I also worked on a lot of shooting. Worked on getting my legs involved. I feel much stronger than last year. I worked on my endurance to sustain the minutes I played last year, which I wasn’t prepared for. This year I can play any amount of minutes.”
Conversations with GG Smith about this year’s expectations:
“It’s going to be tougher. There are no other scapegoats. There is no one to blame. I have to take control when the team needs it, now what to do and when to do it.”
Who he sees stepping up as outside shooters:
“We have a lot of young guys that can shoot. James Fives can shoot and knows he has a bigger role this year. Everyone has to step up in every way possible. Chancellor can make a shot now and open up shots. Everybody has to be complete players.”
Conversations he’s had with fellow juniors Chancellor Bernard and Cam Gregory about taking over as the collective leaders of the team:
“We talk about this all the time and stay up late talking about stuff like this. There are no excuses. There is nothing you can do but play ball and whatever happens happens because you made sure of it. We’re the oldest guys with all the experience with the exception of Jarred Jones.”