After Loyola won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship Monday night and earned an NCAA tournament berth a season after going 2-25, the players went bonkers. One assistant coach let out a frightful yell, and the others seemed to be in a state of shock.
First-year coach Skip Prosser?
He allowed himself a smile, shook hands with Manhattan coach Fran Fraschilla and leaned back on the scorer's table, soaking it all in. The NCAAs are what Prosser grew accustomed to during his eight seasons at Xavier, learning the Division I game as an assistant, and the NCAAs were one of the first things he spoke about when he was introduced as Greyhounds coach last April Fools' Day.
If it's not part of the plan, it isn't going to happen.
"Everything from the practice schedule to the travel itinerary is thought out and organized here," assistant coach Dave Wojcik said. "That's Skip's way. He's a perfectionist. He's very particular about the way things are done."
In 1984-85, when Wojcik was a sophomore at Central Catholic High in Wheeling, W.Va., Prosser was in control of the basketball team and his history classes. Prosser's input and responsibility grew at Xavier.
At Central Catholic and Xavier, things were orderly. At Loyola, Prosser found a mess, and he had to ride herd on what had been a wild bunch.
"The thing that makes Tracy Bergan and Michael Reese great players 90 percent of the time gets them in trouble 10 percent of the time," Prosser said. "Their aggression and combativeness had to be channeled. The situation called for some aggressive counseling."
That's Prosser-speak for the instruction needed to get players to do things the right way, whether it's boxing out or attending study hall.
There might have been five days since last fall when Prosser didn't have a serious discussion with Bergan and Reese, the senior stars who weren't around for last season's debacle. Both began last semester as academic question marks, and the two are constantly reminded about the responsibility that comes with potential.
"We're very demanding on our kids," Prosser said. "I'm not asking them to be on the dean's list or to do things they're not capable of on the court. We're just asking them to do their best. My philosophy as a schoolteacher and a coach has always been: Push the kids to do what they can."
Bergan said: "Mike [Reese] can't breathe sometimes, they're on him so hard," but Prosser and staff are equal-opportunity naggers. Junior forward B. J. Pendleton, a model citizen and the lone bright light in 1992-93, incurred their wrath in recent weeks. Freshman Julian Tate, an inside banger on a more sleek scale, wasn't playing hard enough in a regular-season loss to Canisius a month ago, and spent the second half on the bench.
Prosser got their attention. A program that had gone through six straight losing seasons and had dipped to an all-time low in 1992-93 is now 17-12, the best season in its Division I history.
"Last season was very rarely mentioned," Prosser said. "When I thought a lack of effort caused us to play poorly, I challenged them with, 'I thought you were better than that. Don't you remember the bad taste? Don't you want to erase that sting?' They did."
Actually, only three of the eight players Prosser used in the MAAC championship game win over Manhattan were on the team last season. A winning record in the regular season was predictable, but the title required a leap in confidence and all the right buttons to be pushed.
"It's absolutely incredible what Loyola accomplished, winning three games wearing dark jerseys," said Niagara coach Jack Armstrong, referring to the Greyhounds' three straight tournament wins over higher-seeded teams. "Skip's done an amazing job. It was a great hire.
"A lot of times, people are afraid to hire an assistant, because they're not sure what he can do as a head coach, but Skip was the right guy. He won a state championship as a high school coach, he worked for a great coach at Xavier in Pete Gillen and he knew what basketball was all about at a Catholic school."
When Loyola was looking for a coach to lift it out of the doldrums, the search committee recommended Joe Mihalich, an assistant at La Salle. Some alumni wanted Pat Dennis, The Citadel coach who had been a Loyola assistant. Athletic director Joe Boylan, however, went against popular opinion and followed his instincts to hire Prosser.
Even before Prosser guided the Greyhounds into the NCAA tournament, Boylan said: "I think we hit a home run."
The rest of the folks at Evergreen agree.
LOYOLA AT A GLANCE
Founded: 1852, named after Jesuit founder St. Ignatius Loyola
Not to be confused with: Loyola Marymount, Loyola University-Chicago, Loyola University of New Orleans
Enrollment: 3,040 undergraduates, including more than 1,800 women (school began admitting women in 1971)
First men's basketball season: 1908-09 (12-5 record)
First women's basketball season: 1971-72 (0-4 record)
Last winning season: Men went 15-14 in 1986-87; women went 16-10 in 1979-80.
Best men's season: Lefty Reitz (349-228 in 23 seasons) coached Greyhounds to 25-8 record in 1948-49. Star was Jim Lacy, school's all-time leading scorer with 2,199 points.
Best women's season: 18-5 in 1976-77.
Last trip to NCAAs: Men's team made the Division II tournament in 1972-73. Women's team is making first appearance.