Hounded by defeat

Loyola: Thirty losses in a row have people talking again about Greyhounds basketball, 10 years after an NCAA tournament berth.

January 25, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

It's been almost 10 years now, and the office of Loyola athletic director Joe Boylan is free of any visible reminders of that dizzying three-day span, when the Greyhounds' underdog men's basketball team pulled off three straight wins to capture the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship.

But not a month goes by without Boylan being asked about that 1994 team, whose 80-75 victory over Manhattan in Albany, N.Y., propelled Loyola to its first and only Division I NCAA tournament.

The trips down memory lane are a needed diversion these days.

This is Loyola's 10th straight losing season since that landmark triumph, and the Greyhounds are a combined 81-186 during that stretch. Three coaches have tried to recapture the magic Skip Prosser's squad created, and all have failed.

There have been high-profile transfers and academic issues, and now Loyola is threatening the NCAA Division I standard for basketball futility with 30 straight losses.

With three more defeats, starting today at Fairfield, the Greyhounds would tie Grambling's record of 33 straight defeats, set from Dec. 6, 1999 to Dec. 16, 2000. Loyola plays again Thursday at home against Marist and Saturday at Saint Peter's.

"We have to win," said freshman guard Jamaal Dixon. "I can't deal with that record. It sticks with you the rest of your life."

If Loyola drops three straight, the Greyhounds (0-17, 0-8 MAAC) could strike Grambling from the record books with a loss to conference leader Manhattan on Feb. 4 at Reitz Arena.

The Greyhounds haven't won since Jan. 19 of last year, when they beat visiting Rider, 74-69, in overtime.

"Everybody talks about it -- teachers, people who drive the shuttles," said Dixon, who went to Thayer Academy in Massachusetts. "My whole high school career, I probably lost 12 games altogether. It's not fun at all. It makes me angry."

In the latest NCAA Rating Percentage Index, a formula used for NCAA tournament seeding, Loyola is last among 326 Division I programs.

"It's tough to stomach and not something to be proud of," said Mark Rohde, 49, who played for Loyola from 1972 to '76 and was an assistant coach there for two years. "We were never a great program, but a competitive one."

The team's slide has led to speculation that fourth-year coach Scott Hicks, who is in the last year of his contract, will not be back. After being hired from the University of Albany in June 2000 to replace Dino Gaudio, Hicks has compiled a 15-87 record (.147 winning percentage).

Boylan said he won't discuss Hicks' future until after the season, but he did say that despite Hicks' record, he feels the 37-year-old coach "has done a lot of good things."

Loyola President Rev. Harold Ridley, who had Hicks as a student at LeMoyne College in New York and was the key figure in bringing him to Baltimore, also declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the discontent is growing.

In November, a group of 42 alumni, calling themselves the Loyola basketball advocates, met at Hunt Valley Country Club in a question-and-answer session with Boylan on the state of the program.

One attendee of the meeting said there were calls for Hicks' ouster, but Bob Connor Jr., who helped set up the meeting, denied that took place.

"Not only as alumni of the school academically but as an alumni of its athletic program, we're embarrassed by what is happening," said Connor, who played basketball for Loyola from 1967 to '71.

Ecstasy to agony

Loyola's reputation as a mediocre program was supposed to change in 1994 when the Greyhounds followed a dreadful 2-25 season with a 17-13 campaign, which still stands as the program's high-water mark in 22 Division I seasons.

But Prosser, now at Wake Forest, left Loyola to take the head coaching job at Xavier of Ohio just days after that season ended with a first-round NCAA tournament loss to Arizona. The Greyhounds haven't been the same since.

Since the 1998-99 season, the Greyhounds' conference mark is 17-81, and they haven't finished better than ninth in the 10-team MAAC.

Loyola hasn't had a winning streak since the opening week of the 1999-2000 season, when it started 2-0 by winning the Battle of Baltimore tournament.

"If we didn't think we could be competitive, we would drop the sport, and I don't think we plan on doing that," said Boylan, the 13-year athletic director. "But it's not easy [to win here]."

Winning models

Alumni have pointed to schools like Saint Joseph's (Pa.) and Xavier -- which like Loyola are small (all three have between 6,000 and 7,000 students), academic-driven Jesuit schools -- as proof that Loyola is capable of housing a competitive Division I program.

Saint Joseph's is currently ranked third in the country, and Xavier is an NCAA tournament regular. And the differences don't end there, starting with the perception that basketball is a second- or third-class citizen at Loyola, where lacrosse reigns.

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