Loyola coach Gaudio aims to restore order on the court Prosser protege begins his own era

November 16, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,STAFF WRITER

What is Dino Gaudio's notion of a difficult transition?

Gaudio talks about how smooth it was, settling in as the basketball coach at Loyola College, where the administration was helpful and the players have worked hard. The spiel works, until you recall the scene he walked into.

Gaudio came down from Army, but if the officer candidates at West Point really wanted to experience a combat zone, they could have played for Loyola the past three seasons. Former coach Brian Ellerbe was one of the best recruiters to work in Baltimore, but during his watch, at least seven quality players left the Greyhounds before their time was up.

Ellerbe, who landed as the interim coach at Michigan, left Loyola over what were termed "mutual philosophical differences." Gaudio's first charge was to stop the player departures, which have hurt Loyola on the court and in the NCAA's graduation rate surveys.

"Anytime there's a coaching change, kids feel a sense of abandonment," Gaudio said. "I came in, and maybe four or five kids were wondering if they wanted to stay. What's the new guy about? They had some ill feelings about Brian's departure. Kids are kids, they bounced back."

Not all of them did. From last year's superb freshman class, forward Erik Cooper transferred to Rice and guard Darren Kelly left. Then the centerpiece of that class, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year Jason Rowe, wondered if running the point at Loyola was what he wanted to do for the next three years.

"I'll be honest, the thought crossed my mind," Rowe said, when asked if he, too, thought about transferring. "The way last season ended, finding out what happened to Coach Ellerbe, I felt the world was coming to an end."

Rowe talked to his parents. He talked to Powell. Mostly, he talked to Gaudio.

"I told the guys from Day One, you are my guys," Gaudio said. "A lot of coaches will talk about a four-year plan, about when we get 'our' guys in. You'll never hear me say that. Our goal is to win, and win now."

Loyola is picked to finish second in the MAAC because of its elegant backcourt. Joining Rowe is preseason MAAC Player of the Year Mike Powell, who had followed Ellerbe from Virginia to Evergreen. It was imperative that Gaudio win the heart and mind of Powell, but he wasn't going anywhere, not in the fifth year of his NCAA clock.

Gaudio's four-year record at Army was 36-72, but that was improvement for the Cadets.

Loyola hasn't exactly been a hotbed for major-college hoops, either; the Greyhounds have never won more than 17 games in Division I. They entered the MAAC in 1989, and only once have they gotten past the tournament's first round, during a magical March in 1994.

Loyola athletic director Joe Boylan disagreed with the suggestion that, in hiring Gaudio over fired Seton Hall coach George Blaney and others, he was trying to put lightning back in the bottle.

The fact remains, however, that the major influence in Gaudio's coaching career has been Skip Prosser, whose one season at Loyola, 1993-94, brought the Greyhounds their only NCAA berth. This is the third stop in which Gaudio followed Prosser, who's in his fourth season as coach at Xavier.

Gaudio, 40, needed about two days as an accountant in 1981 to realize that line of work wasn't for him. He took a pay cut to teach business and be an assistant basketball coach at Central Catholic High in Wheeling, W.Va., in 1981. The varsity coach was furious that the principal hadn't consulted him.

The start of a beautiful relationship began with Prosser asking the principal, "What's a Dino Gaudio?"

"We were bananas, basketball junkies," Gaudio said. "We got in the car one Friday night before our season started and drove to Chapel Hill. We caught North Carolina's practice on Saturday morning, and Duke's in the afternoon. We split up Sunday so we could see both teams work out, then we drove the 11 hours back to Wheeling."

When Xavier hired Pete Gillen in 1985, Prosser joined his staff, and Gaudio replaced Prosser at Central Catholic. Two years later, Gillen added Gaudio. Prosser left to jump-start Loyola, but in rapid order, Gillen went to Providence, Prosser went back to Xavier and Gaudio was hired by Army.

Central Catholic, Xavier and now Loyola.

"If they've got anything in common," Boylan said, "it's an understanding of what institutions like Loyola are all about."

The bond goes beyond basketball. Prosser is the godfather to Gaudio's youngest daughter. Gaudio was best man at Prosser's second wedding.

"It sounds crazy, but we talk almost every day," Gaudio said. "I fax Skip my practices, he faxes me his. We're our own men, but our philosophies are similar."

West Point was a great place to raise kids, but not the best to push the ball up court and apply full-court pressure, which Loyola will do this season.

The Greyhounds rallied past injuries, defections and a 2-10 start to finish second in the MAAC last year before a horrendous MAAC first-round loss to Niagara. They'll improve, if forward Blanchard Hurd can regain his eligibility at fall semester's end and six newcomers can mesh with Rowe, Powell and center Roderick Platt.

The five freshmen include forward Jamal Hunter; an unexpected find from Greece in 6-foot-7 Apostolis Nasiou; guard Ryan Blosser and forward Brian Carroll, whom Ellerbe had done the early recruiting work on.

The transition enters another phase tomorrow, at Florida State in the Preseason NIT (7 p.m.), but the hard part of Gaudio's transition is done with.

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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