Loyola, Mount find stocking full of charcoal

Bill Tanton

December 17, 1992|By Bill Tanton

"They're playing this one for Christmas morning," Loyola College alumnus Charley Meagher was saying at the Loyola-Mount St. Mary's basketball game.

"Christmas morning?" I asked.

"Sure," he said. "Neither team wants to get up Christmas morning without a victory."

This was last Saturday night, nearly two full weeks before Christmas. But this is what basketball has come to at Loyola and the Mount.

Going into their game, neither team had a victory -- and neither would play again until Dec. 29.

Loyola won, 56-52, but it was hardly a memorable triumph, even though it was over the Greyhounds' arch-rival. Loyola's record is 1-3, Mount St. Mary's 0-4.

It was an ugly game. There were air balls galore. Players wouldn't shoot when they had open shots. Three nights earlier, I saw a Division III game between Johns Hopkins and Franklin & Marshall that was better played.

The Mount shot 32.1 percent, Loyola 47.5, but only 33.3 in the first half while the team was being held to a paltry 19 points.

"I never thought I'd see Loyola and Mount St. Mary's play in a half-empty gym," said Paul Dodd, a one-time Loyola player.

Reitz Arena holds 3,000. The crowd Saturday night was 1,247.

The whole thing was a little sad to anyone who remembers packed houses at the old Evergreen Gym and at the Mount's airplane hangar, Memorial Gym.

It was hard to accept for those who saw great players in this 142-game series, such as the Mount's Jack Sullivan, Fred Carter, John O'Reilly, Sal Angelo, Jerry Savage and Paul Edwards, and Loyola Hall of Famers Jim Lacy, Mike Zedalis, Nap Doherty, Joel Hittleman, John Heagney, Mike Krawczyk and Bob Connor.

What has happened at these once-proud basketball schools?

Both have the full allotment of 14 basketball scholarships. Both have veteran coaches with full-sized staffs. Both have opened new facilities within the past decade.

"Why is Loyola's program so down?" I asked the school's athletic director, Joe Boylan.

"For so many reasons," he said, shaking his head. He hardly knew where to begin, but everyone who's interested knows most of them: high academic standards, a difficult schedule, and the loss of two stars who were eligible to play this year, 6-8 forward Michael Reese and guard Tracy Bergan.

"Mount St. Mary's probably doesn't belong in Division I," I told coach Jim Phelan, who was also the athletic director when the Mount moved up from Division II in 1988-89.

"That may be true," Phelan admitted, "but as long as Loyola and these schools are in Division I, we're going to be there. We're in a conference now [Northeast] with schools from the areas where our players and alumni come from in Pennsylvania and New Jersey."

Phelan himself is a compelling subplot. This is his 39th year as coach of the Mount. He needs only seven wins to reach the 700 plateau, but he won only six games last year, eight the year

before that.

Before the season, Mount St. Mary's President Robert J. Wickenheiser suggested to Phelan that he make this his final season. The 64-year-old Phelan has a contract that gives him full pay to age 70 whether he coaches or not.

Phelan refused the president's offer for a last hurrah. Despite his team's winless performance, he remains undaunted. In fact, he is incredibly optimistic.

"You can't panic because you've lost four road games, all of them home openers for your opponents," Phelan says.

"We play Army in our own tournament at the Mount on the 29th. I don't know why we can't beat Army [which is 0-3]. We're doing too many things well for us not to snap out of this."

Still, Phelan's team looks bad. I've never seen a player go downhill as fast as fifth-year senior Kevin Booth. He was the Mount's leading scorer the past two years. He was a preseason first-team, all-conference pick. Against Loyola, he played 37 minutes and did not score.

Another holdover, Dave Kapaona, once regarded as the answer to the Mount's point-guard problem, quit the team last week.

Things are not settled at Loyola, either. Coach Tom Schneider is in the fourth and last year of his contract. He has not had a winning season at Loyola, though he was 14-14 last year.

There were whispers around Reitz Arena the other night that if Schneider did not win that game -- that night -- he was gone. Tom Young, with whom Boylan coached at Catholic University and Rutgers, was said to be waiting in the wings.

"None of that is true," says Boylan.

The remainder of the winter promises to be very difficult -- and very interesting -- at Loyola and the Mount.

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