Loyola Poised for Success in 2019-2020 Season
By: Ethan Hennessy
There is an excitement surrounding Loyola basketball that has not been present since entering the Patriot League. It is no secret that Loyola has struggled on the court since leaving the MAAC. In their new conference the hounds have yet to finish outside of the bottom four in the standings, and aside from a 2017 CBI second round appearance basketball on Charles Street has been disappointing to greyhounds fans. However, for the first time the greyhounds will enter the season being regarded as one of the top teams with conference with a chance to win the title. I had the opportunity to sit down with second year head coach Tavaras Hardy to discuss this year’s recruiting class, the roster, and the recently released schedule.
When Hardy was given the reins to the green and grey in the spring of 2018 most fans had not heard much about the former Georgia Tech, Georgetown, and Northwestern assistant.
The one thing I was told by longtime color commentator for the hounds Jim Chivers was that Hardy is a great recruiter. We are already starting to see the beginnings of this. He has brought in a fantastic recruiting class of five talented freshmen headlined by the 65th and 161st overall prospects in the 2019 class according to 247sports.com Santi Aldama and Golden Dike. They are joined by Boys Latin standout Pat Spencer who is the brother of Loyola lacrosse legend and 2019 Tewaaraton Award winner (the award given to the best player in college lacrosse) Pat Spencer, Garren Davis, and Daraun Gray.
In talking about the two Spanish freshmen Hardy said: “They have a lot of international basketball experience. Golden played with Real Madrid’s junior team, and Santi could have very easily played with any of the junior pro teams over there, but chose to play at the Canterbury School which is a great academic school….they add a lot of height obviously, but a skillset that is important to the way we want to play”.
“He (Ivo Simovic) was able to evaluate Santi and Golden for years, and to be honest with you he saw something in Santi before everyone else did. A lot of people saw Santi when he was younger, but they didn’t have the same projection on him as coach Ivo did”. – Tavaras Hardy
Not all of the credit however can go to Hardy. He praised his assistant Ivo Simovic for being the main reason he was able to land a player like Santi. Simovic has know Aldama’s father for years, and is extremely connected in European recruiting circles.
Santi Aldama led his country, Spain, to the FIBA U18 European Championship. He averaged 18 points per game 7.6 rebounds per game, and 2.3 blocks per game.
Aldama was named MVP of the tournament joining previous MVP’s such as: Tony Parker, Enes Kanter, Nicolas Batum, Dario Saric, and Jonas Valanciunas. 12 of the 18 MVP’s in the history of this tournament have been drafted and/or played in the NBA.
Roster Composition Built for Sustained Success
One of the reasons I’m so optimistic about this team is the roster composition. With all of the talk about the freshman class it is easy to forget about the returning talent, but Loyola brings back one of the best guards in the country in Andrew Kostecka.
Kostecka ranked top ten in all of college basketball in steals per game, and top 30 in points per game. The senior was named to the all Patriot League first team and all defensive team last season.
Last year defenses oriented their entire game plan around slowing down Kostecka, however, this year much of that attention will be shifted to the 6’11 Aldama. Andrew won’t need to carry as much of the scoring load offensively, and therefore can spend more energy locking up the opponents best player on defense. Furthermore, the two will be able to alternate taking over, so whenever Aldama encounters him freshman growing pains; which inevitably will happen at some point there will not be as much pressure on him immediately because he will have one of the top players in the conference as a senior leader to take over in spots. All of this is in addition to a supporting cast littered with good role players such as Dike, Champion, Scott, Hart, Spencer, and Holcombe.
While it is easy for fans to get excited about the amount of talent on this roster. Tavaras reminded me they still have a lot of work to do, and can’t take anybody on the schedule for granted.
“I know we have a lot of hype coming into the year, but we won 11 games last year, so we’re certainly not walking around like we’re some big bad basketball program”. – Tavaras Hardy
Despite having teams that have struggled in years past like Chicago State, Delaware State, Mount Saint Mary’s, UMass Lowell, and division two Elizabethtown on the schedule Hardy said: “This is year two, we are on a long journey. We don’t look at any team on our schedule as a team we can easily beat.” The team will also be challenged early and often with high major games on the road facing road tests at Marquette, Old Dominion, George Mason, and VCU.
Loyola does play nine of their 13 non-conference games away from Reitz Arena, but having a winning record in non-conference play, which should be challenging but doable, would build nice momentum heading into Patriot League play.
Laying the Foundation for Future Success at Loyola
Greyhounds fans have a lot to get excited about this year, and it could be a very special season on the court for Loyola basketball. There are two players who legitimately could play in the NBA at some point (Aldama and Kostecka) on the roster, and in a conference like the Patriot League that is huge! It is important to remember though what Hardy said in that the program only won 11 games last season, so the cart should not be put before the horse. Furthermore, a lot can happen in a season, and having everyone stay healthy over the course of a season is a matter of luck. However, if all of the pieces manage to come together this is the type of season that can be historic in its own right, but also lay the foundation for the future success of the program.
Title photo credit: Baltimore Sun