With the bulk of his rotation coming back and three accomplished recruits coming in, Jimmy Patsos' anticipation for the 2011-12 basketball season is increasing by the day.
The Loyola coach, heading into his eighth season, guided his team to a 15-15 mark last year. The veteran-dominated Greyhounds are bringing in three freshmen this year: St. Frances point guard R.J. Williams, Lee Academy (Maine) center Chen "David" Cai and Montrose Christian shooting guard Tyler Hubbard. Loyola also landed Xavier transfer Jordan Latham, a former City standout who led the Knights to back-to-back Class 2A state titles. Latham will redshirt and be eligible for the 2012-13 season.
Patsos spoke to Recruiting Report last week about his 2011 class, Loyola's returners, the coming season and more.
This was a class with a very local flavor, starting with R.J. Williams.
I mean, we’re just happy to have another kid from the Baltimore Catholic League. It’s funny – I went to the first Hall of Fame [ceremony] for the Baltimore Catholic League, and you see the tradition. Wojo’s up there, Tony Guy, who was a great player at Kansas, Marc Wilson from Calvert Hall, played at Minnesota. And now we get kids, two years in a row, that are first-team All-Catholic League (editor's note: Gibbons' Dylon Cormier was the other). That was the goal – it took five or six years to get there. We’ve gotten transfers from the Baltimore Catholic League that are really [great players]. But Luke D’Alessio has been an excellent recruiter. He’s a good guy. So to get R.J. was a really good get for us.
I imagine that you and your staff followed him for awhile. What really stood out to you?
Yeah, we were watching him because we always watch the league. [We thought] ‘that guy keeps winning’ and ‘boy, he plays hard.’ We talked to everyone at St. Frances about how great a person he was. And we lose Brian Rudolph, our starting point guard, a senior. So R.J. is a point guard and he has a chance at the 1. If he doesn’t start, he’ll probably be the first guy off the bench.
What does he bring to the table at the point?
He’s a pass-first, defense-first guy. In this day and age, that’s hard to find. He just wants to pass first and play defense first, which means he wants to win. [Mark] Karcher can really coach. Coming from a great program with Karcher as the coach, I like that about him. I talked to the nun, Sister John Francis, and other people who weren’t basketball people, and they all spoke really well about him. That says a lot about it.
The next guy is Chen "David" Cai. What can you tell us about him?
He doesn’t come here until Summer 2. He’s not here now, so I don’t know. He’s a nice kid and he’s got a good upside. He’s a real wide body. He’s a big guy with a soft touch, but he’s probably a year away from really helping us. We have Shane Walker back and Julius Brooks back and Erik Etherly. He’s more of a down-the-road guy. But we’re happy we got him. He’s a very good student. He’s from China, has only been in the country four years. It’s interesting because with the emerging market in China, he’s a guy that helps us not only on the court, but expands Loyola University over to the mainland in China. He’s from the third-biggest city in China – not Beijing or Shanghai. But he’s a good player, but I’m not looking for him to help us right away as much as R.J.
What's his game like?
He’s a wide body [that plays with his] back to the basket. He can shoot. He’s got a nice, soft touch. I have seven left-handers on my team. I keep getting leftys.
He played in a tough prep school league this year, so he shouldn't have been a secret to other schools. What was the competition like for him?
We beat out Santa Clara for him, another Jesuit school and a team that’s a good program. It really came down to us and Santa Clara. To beat out Santa Clara, that was a good situation for us. And he’s just going to be fine. He’s adjusting to the speed of the game, but prep school helped him. He was not a star on his team, but he started. He’s going to help us the year after because Walker leaves.
Tyler Hubbard's a guy that really impressed at the National High School Invitational, a nationally televised event. How did you get involved with him?
We recruited him, and his assistant coach played at Loyola. Damien Jenifer played at Loyola. He was before I got here. But [Montrose Christian coach] Stu Vetter just called me, said ‘You should really take a look at this guy.’ But I saw him play on TV, just like you. I watched those three games. We were not allowed to go there – it was during the dead period – but the games were on TV. I watched just like everybody else. I’m still a fan. But that guy makes big shots. He came up to the school and committed. We beat the team that won our league, St. Peter's. We beat them for him. But make no mistake about it – I’m just like you. Same as you, no different, [I saw him] on TV, making big shots. He’s a high-character guy. I like guys that play for Stu Vetter. Those kids that play for Stu Vetter, he runs a college environment in terms of basketball. Montrose Christian is like a mini college environment in terms of practice. Like R.J., he’s more ready to play right away, due to both [his experience] and playing for a head coach like Stu Vetter.
What does he bring to the table?
He can make shots, he can stretch the defense. I thought we struggled just getting easy baskets [last season]. We would throw the ball inside, everyone collapses, throw it out, and we shot very poorly from the 3-point line. As a coach, they weren’t bad 3s. We just didn’t have someone to make enough of them. He reminds me of Marquis Sullivan, who was a Catholic League kid from Spalding. He reminds us a lot of Marquis Sullivan. I wasn’t sure [about him], but when I saw those games on TV, [I thought], ‘Wow, this guy can really make it.’ He’s from a nice family, lives in Bowie so they can come to his games.
Jordan Latham's the last new addition to the roster. How did that recruitment develop after he decided to transfer?
He decided to leave Xavier and we were really lucky to be involved with him. His parents are close by and want to watch him play. He knew Dylon Cormier. ... Jordan came in here and loved it. We beat out Old Dominion, Delaware and Towson. Those were the [other] schools. I’m happy we got him. He’s a high-character guy, great personality. He’s glad to be back home. He has to sit out a year, but he’ll have three years left to play. He’ll help us practice. He’s just a really good kid. I already know that in a short period. He’s a really good kid. I can’t watch practice, but I hear he’s playing well. It’s going to be good for us. He’s a 4/5 that can shoot better than people think.
With all the success you've had these past couple years recruiting locally, do you think that the program has kind of turned a corner?
You get a job, then start patch-working, taking certain guys here. We had a good year, 15 wins. The year before, we had injuries, with [Anthony] Winbush being hurt. We beat Indiana, then the next week, we lost Brett Harvey. But now we’re getting deep, nine or 10 guys. Local kids have always been my plan. We were so bad for awhile that they didn’t want to go to Loyola. They went away to schools with winning programs. I give Gerald Brown a lot of credit. He’s the one these kids knew. Now we’ve got Luke D’Alessio, Greg Manning’s working really hard recruiting, and they see the result. And the fact that they’re all on Twitter and Facebook, they talk to each other all the time. Once Dylon, a great player, got to school, R.J. is friends with Dylon. They talked. With Jordan coming home, he talked to a bunch of people. Our kids did a really good job with him.
Jordan, I think, liked the Jesuit education at Xavier, but wanted to play closer to home and play a lot of minutes. It’s more stable here now. Our situation at Loyola is nice and stable, which is what we like. Before we were fixing holes with patch-work and kind of trying to build on it. I’m happy with the way it’s going. We had the highest team GPA for our basketball program ever. Jamal Barney graduated, Brian [Rudolph] graduated. Things are the way I wanted – it just took a while to get there. [Former Maryland coach] Gary Williams said it takes longer than you think. If you’re at a place you want to be a long time, [that’s good]. If you want to hit and run, it’s not a good place. [Williams said then that] ‘Loyola will be a great place for you.’ It just took awhile, because we’re doing it the right way here. These kids coming, with Jordan – even though he’s a transfer – he’s got three years left. With the redshirt year, Jordan will be here for four years. It’ll be great.
Barney played in just 16 games, so Rudolph is really the main guy you're losing.
Losing Rudolph was a lot. He’s tough, a great competitor, and he’s just a good point guard. But R.J. and Dylon combined can take all those minutes. Dylon started for us at the 2. He started every game except when he had mono.
Do you think, with all that experience returning, that you're in a good spot this year?
Yeah, winning 15 last year was good, but we want to build on it. We have a lot to build on, lots of positive momentum. I like it. I’m much more positive as a coach and a person than I was seven years ago. I barely yelled this year. I got about one or two technical fouls. I didn’t even curse to get them. But it’s not about me. It’s the kids you coach. I like our team, like our program. I just want to keep building. These kids are great, focused kids.
How do you see your lineup shaking out?
I would say Walker at the 5, Erik Etherly at the 4, [Justin] Drummond starts at the 3 – he had a great second half. He’s a local guy from Prince George’s County. Bobby Olson from Georgetown Prep plays the 2, Dylon [Cormier] at the 1 with R.J. backing him up. J'hared Hall was sixth man of the year in the league, and Anthony Winbush is back. He redshirted last year, tore his ACL. But he looks great. He’s our most versatile player. He got hurt the year before and it killed us. Then we’ve got Julius Brooks as an inside sub. That’s nine. We’ll see where Tyler Hubbard or Pierson Williams fit shooting the ball.
So at the point, Williams and Cormier will both see some time?
R.J. could beat Dylon out. Dylon likes playing the 2 because he likes to score. He was our best defensive player last year. That was a change for him. He didn’t play [a lot of] defense in high school [because] he scored 30 points a night. But we have a lot of experience. We’re building. We’re excited for the way the program is going.
What's the biggest x-factor for your team this season?
If Shane Walker can give a consistent effort on the court, we have a chance to be really good. When he’s playing well, not many guys in the league are like him. He shoots it, he can pass it. Consistently playing hard or not, that’s what we’re working on.
Finally, what's the overall goal for this season?
Keep building. We came in fifth last year – [we want to] do better than that. In our tournament – we’re not the CAA – only one team is going to the NCAA tournament. But our goal is the postseason – NCAA, NIT, CBI, stuff like that. But we came in fifth last year and we want to keep moving forward. I think we can compete for the league title. In the regular season, we play Wake Forest, Kentucky, Mount St. Mary’s, Coppin – they had a really good year last year – we play UMBC. We still play the locals. And then Bucknell, who went to the NCAAs. It’s a really tough schedule. It’s about improving in the league and finishing [where we left off] from last year.
Photo of Jimmy Patsos by Steve Ruark / Special to The Baltimore Sun / Nov. 29, 2010