As Loyola falters, Pendleton stands tall Soph holds together what's left of team COLLEGE BASKETBALL

March 06, 1993|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

The walls of Loyola's basketball program began cracking last spring when Kevin Green, the school's No. 2 all-time scorer, and Kevin Anderson completed their eligibility.

They began crumbling a month later when point guard Tracy Bergan left for academic reasons. They started tumbling in the fall when Michael Reese, the Greyhounds' top in- side player, was charged with assault and another returnee, Chad Anderson, was involved in an incident on campus and left school.

By mid-January, there was no structure as the Greyhounds had known it. Coach Tom Schneider resigned after his team had labored to a 1-10 record. The devastation was complete.

But in the center of all the rubble stood one tireless rock, B. J. Pendleton. Pendleton, the new foundation, had refused to be budged.

All season Pendleton has plugged away with relentless zeal, and he will be try again today when the Greyhounds face another seemingly impossible chore in the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament at Albany, N.Y.

With its 1-13 league record (2-24 overall), Loyola drew the dubious honor of facing the MAAC's best team, Manhattan, the regular-season champion.

As usual, Pendleton says he is full of hope.

"You always say you're trying to win the whole thing," he said, knowing that realism is being strained. "But our main concern is just to win the first game. Our pride is about gone now, so it would do a lot for us."

Athletic director Joe Boylan, who has served as the interim coach for the past 15 games, has marveled at the resilience of Pendleton, the target of numerous defenses and a figure who could have easily gotten disgusted with the entire scene.

"B.J. has been terrific," Boylan said. "He comes to practice every day with a smile on his face, and, in 25-plus years, I've never dealt with anybody who works harder."

For a long time, Pendleton was the only Loyola scoring threat. Opponents ganged up on him with multiple coverage, forcing him to force shots or to pass.

"I didn't feel like I had to carry the team," he said. "But you'd go by the other bench and hear the other coach say, 'All you've got to do is check B. J., and the game's over.' "

Invariably, the game was over. Pendleton was a complementary player last season when he made the MAAC All-Rookie team by averaging 8.6 points and 5.0 rebounds. Green, Reese and Bergan did most of the offensive damage, and he cleaned up by doing the dirty work inside.

But this year Loyola is apparently destined for its worst overall record -- the team was 1-11 in 1919-20 and 4-24 in 1982-83 and 1989-90.

"Atrocious is the word" for this season, Pendleton said. "We've lost players, a coach and a lot of games. I haven't lost this much in my whole career -- junior high . . . high school.

"But I feel this is a learning experience, and next year we're going to pound a lot of people back."

Pendleton hasn't accepted the losses easily, but he hasn't let them destroy his hope.

"He gets down a little bit after games," Boylan said. "But that's good and natural. It hasn't been easy for him. B. J. is a good player, but not a great one. He can't overpower people by himself."

"We're all hanging in there in spite of everything," Pendleton said. "We've been playing pretty well, and we're looking forward to the tournament. We're a close team.

"Me, I've always had a positive outlook. Early in the year, I'd always blame myself for losses. Everything was pretty easy in the first few games. I could score inside and out. But then they [opponents] would throw everything at me. Now, I can't do it as much."

Still, Pendleton led the team with 14.8 points and 5.8 rebounds. ++ He made 11 of 13 shots from the field and scored a game-high 24 points when the Greyhounds lost to Manhattan last Monday, 79-62. It was an almost predictable Greyhound game this season.

Transferring to another school would have been an easy way out for Pendleton, a native of Washington, D.C. He said he hasn't given that option a single thought.

"A whole lot of people at home have asked me about that," he said. "But Loyola gave me the chance for an education, and I plan on fulfilling my obligation.

"I'm happy here. I didn't want to go to a university where I was just a Social Security number. I like the atmosphere, and if I need extra [academic] help, I don't have to go through eight secretaries to get it."

Bergan, who is back in school, will return next season if he improves his grades. David Credle and Mark Sparzak have improved in the second half of the season, and Virgil Wallace and Teron Owens show promise.

If the new coach, whoever that is, can attract several good new players, Loyola has a chance to be competitive again next season.

Boylan said he wants to have a coach selected by the NCAA final four, although the formal interview process has not begun.

"The bottom line is to get the right person," he said. Tom Young, a long-time Boylan associate who has assisted him with the team, has not committed himself yet.

"What he has learned," Boylan said, "is that he still enjoys coaching. "But whether he wants to become a candidate and possibly move and take on the full responsibility, he doesn't know yet."

One thing a new coach won't have to worry about is Pendleton. He will be there, the one constant in a sea of change.

"I'm going to miss being around him," Boylan said. "The kid's attitude is unbelievable."

"We haven't had that much fan support," Pendleton said. "But we have bonded as a team. I think that shows just how strong we are. Sure, I've gotten frustrated, but it'll all be better next year."

B6 And Pendleton will do his share to make it better.

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