Two 'Hounds sit, wait to start ride

Loyola: Andre Collins and Hassan Fofana, transfers from Maryland, hope to lead a winning program after their redshirt season is over.

February 26, 2005|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

They left the University of Maryland without acrimony, disappointed that their playing time on the basketball court was limited, but not bitter toward the coaching staff that kept them sitting through most of the games.

Now, Andre Collins and Hassan Fofana are playing a new game. Waiting. Until next season.

They are still sitting at Loyola, adhering to an NCAA Division I redshirt rule that makes transfer players ineligible for competition for a year. To both, it is excruciating, yet enlightening.

"It kills yourself not being able to play because you can see yourself helping the team," said Fofana, 6 feet 10, 290 pounds. "It hurts to sit on the bench watching people go to battle, and you can't."

"Sure, it's tough, but you have to be focused enough to deal with it," added Collins, the 6-foot point guard who was a high school All-American at Crisfield High, the state Class 1A champion during his senior season. "You must understand you can take good things out of sitting out. I'm thinking of maybe getting into coaching later and this year is helping."

"I think kids can learn by sitting," said coach Jimmy Patsos. "Byron Mouton [at Maryland] learned a lot after coming from Tulane. I sometimes go to Andre during games and ask him about little things that he might help with."

Both players were coaches for a day after the Greyhounds scored a mere 35 points in an ugly defeat to Fairfield. Patsos divided the team in half for a scrimmage and put Collins and Fofana in charge of the opposing sides. Two days later, Loyola upset two-time defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Manhattan.

Collins was the first to join the former Terrapins assistant, transferring shortly after Patsos was hired last April. Thus, he can play from the beginning of next season after enrolling in summer school.

At Maryland, he was locked in the pecking order first behind Steve Blake, then John Gilchrist, and considered leaving a year earlier than he did. But, late in his sophomore season, Collins savored some encouraging moments, particularly an eight-point, four-steal, three-assist game against North Carolina that confirmed his fitness for ACC basketball.

He changed his mind, then got discouraged again as a junior and left the Terps in December 2003.

"I was thinking of St. Joe's [Philadelphia], Delaware or Delaware State. But when Coach Patsos left, I wanted to be with him," Collins said. " ... I figured this was something that could be very good for me."

Fofana did not come to Loyola until last month and cannot play next season until the second semester. Unlike Collins - who has only a year of eligibility remaining - Fofana can play for Loyola for 1 1/2 years and perhaps land another season as a medical redshirt because of a recurring back problem. He played in a mere four games at Maryland this season.

"Coach Patsos recruited me for Maryland and has always believed in me," said Fofana, a native of Guinea in Africa and a resident of Weston, Mass., where he lives with his guardian, Gary Gibbons.

"I'm very excited about having these two guys," Patsos said. "Andre will give us great leadership and Hassan a lot of size."

Because of the transfers and the promise of freshmen like Freddie Stanback and Brad Farrell, followers of Loyola sense a revival in a program that has been downtrodden since current Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser led the Greyhounds to the MAAC title in 1994. Loyola has been losing for more than a decade, bottoming out last year when it threatened an NCAA Division I record for consecutive defeats.

"Of course, [the MAAC] is not the ACC," Collins said of his new league. "But it's good and competitive and I think Loyola could actually win it, especially next year."

Said Fofana: "It doesn't matter what the MAAC is. As long as they can bounce the ball, there is going to be competition."

The two former Terrapins cannot travel to road games and can only observe at home. But their presence is felt immensely in practices, and "they are great additions off the court," Patsos said.

Neither is immersed in the past or what might have been.

Fofana was considering going to Georgetown before the team shocked Pittsburgh, leading him to believe the Hoyas didn't need as much help as he thought.

"My whole thing is I wanted to make sure I didn't put myself in the same situation I left," he said. "I wasn't playing as much as I thought I should be [at Maryland], and I wanted to go somewhere I could get a lot of minutes, bring my skills to where they belong. I needed to help myself and my team, and one of my former teammates was already here. I wanted a new start."

Collins said he tries "to push" the present Greyhounds into "playing hard every possession" during workouts as he did at Maryland.

"[At College Park] I went all out every day in practice, but really never got an opportunity. I want to try to make a career out of the basketball. If I didn't, I would have stayed at Maryland. I don't think any differently of [Terps] Coach [Gary] Williams. It's a business. John Gilchrist is a great player. The Terps are still in my heart, but I'm a Greyhound now. I just moved on."

Time is running out for Collins. He knows it and he plans to go full bore with what's left.

"I'm going to put a lot of pressure on myself," he said. "There could be something really special for us next year., Basically, it's the only one I'm going to get to showcase myself. It's going to have to make my career. I'm looking forward to playing with these guys."

These guys are looking forward to having him.

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