Last loss can't wipe off Loyola's seasonal smile

March 20, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO, CALIF — SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The sting of being on the short side of a 26-point blowout in the first round of the NCAA tournament didn't stay with Loyola for long.

Coach Skip Prosser and the rest of the Greyhounds didn't dwell on the embarrassing aspects of the 81-55 whipping Arizona laid on them Friday in the West Regional, the third most lopsided outcome in the first round's 32 games.

Instead, Loyola scanned the big picture. A wide-screen view is necessary to appreciate the distance the Greyhounds came from a 2-25 record in 1992-93 -- the worst in the program's 82-season history -- to its first berth in the Division I tournament.

"We went for a long ride [Friday] night," Prosser said, "but look at it retrospectively. When I look at where we went from last April 1 to selection Sunday to here, the enormity of what these kids have accomplished is amazing. People thought it [making the NCAAs] might never happen at Loyola. The perception of the program has to be better than it was 11 months ago."

Prosser was introduced as the Greyhounds' coach last April Fools' Day. The jokes about the Greyhounds stopped when they ignored a No. 5 seed and upset their way through the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament. Now that they have joined Coppin State and Towson State with an NCAA appearance, the goal is building a program strong enough to become the first Baltimore team to win a game in the tournament.

"The first year we went with Xavier, we got drilled by Alabama," said Prosser, who went to seven NCAA tournaments as an assistant at Xavier, which became a giant-killer in 1990. "Now that our players see what national-level players and national-level atmosphere is about, hopefully it will motivate them."

Prosser's motivation right now is improving the Greyhounds' level of talent. Loyola loses reserve forward Mark Sparzak and its two most talented players: forward Michael Reese, who needed only 52 games over two seasons to score 930 points; and guard Tracy Bergan, who leaves with 1,288 career points and a school-record 538 assists.

With three scholarships to fill, Loyola received commitments in the early signing period from two New Yorkers, 6-foot-8 Ahmad Jackson of Archbishop Molloy High and 5-11 John McDonald of Mount Vernon High.

Next year, they'll team with inside players B. J. Pendleton and David Credle, and three freshmen who have never known losing -- guard Darius Johnson, an MAAC all-rookie pick; Milton Williams, Bergan's heir apparent at the point; and forward Julian Tate.

With the normal number of March coaching vacancies, there has been speculation that Prosser is a hot commodity, but his background doesn't suggest a Larry Brown-like departure. He spent eight years at Xavier and the six before that as a high school teacher and coach in West Virginia.

"Unless [athletic director] Joe Boylan and [acting president] Tom Scheye are unhappy with the job we're doing, I'm here," Prosser said.

"You never say never, but I feel very comfortable where I am. Loyola took a chance on me, and there's a lot of work to be done."

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