Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos reacts to a BU turnover late in the… (Photo by Doug Kapustin /…)
Like a lot of other coaches, Jimmy Patsos is big on inspirational sayings.
On Sunday, he needed one in the worst way. Not a "Braveheart" quote, exactly. Not something to make a man want to take a spear in the throat for his homeland. More like something to make a 20-year-old with a short attention span focus, or something to help a college basketball player suck it up and not dwell on the past.
The Loyola men's basketball team, after all, was on a two-game losing streak. Sure, the Greyhounds' goal of winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and going to the NCAA tournament was still in sight. But not if they played as maddeningly inconsistently as they had in back-to-back losses to Fairfield and Marist after a huge win over Iona on Feb. 10.
So in the moments before the Greyhounds took the court against Boston University at Reitz Arena, Patsos recited a poem:
"Defeat awaits those who stray,
"Dreaming of victories won yesterday ..."
Who was the author? T.S. Eliot? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow? Robert Frost?
Patsos didn't know. Didn't much care, either.
All he knew was that John Wooden, the legendary Wizard of Westwood, had used those lines once to focus his UCLA Bruins. If it was good enough for Wooden, hell, it was good enough for Patsos.
And who's to say if the poem did or didn't work? The Greyhounds responded with a 69-56 nonconference win over Boston University, shooting 71 percent from the field in the second half and playing tough defense to run their record to 20-7 (12-4 MAAC).
Maybe this is the best way to put it: Patsos' poem sure didn't hurt.
"He brings out a lot of quotes and poems," said Robert Olson, the hot-shooting junior guard who hit four second-half 3-pointers to lead Loyola with 17 points. "He really tries to relate stuff to real-life situations."
"Yeah, when you first [hear] it," said senior center Shane Walker, "it's like, 'Oh, is this another poem? Just another quote?' But when you actually read it and think of the meaning, it actually made a lot of sense. ... We were thinking too much about the Iona win and got caught sleeping."
Oh, was this a big win for Loyola on Sunday. The Greyhounds hadn't won 20 games in a season since they joined DivisionI in 1981. And with 12 conference wins, they're a game behind league-leading Iona with two games to play.
The Big Dance is right there, squarely within their grasp.
"One game out with two to play and we got a chance!" Patsos kept saying Sunday to anyone who'd listen.
What a year it's been for the Greyhounds, too.
This is the deepest, most athletic team Patsos has had in his eight seasons at Loyola. And Reitz is becoming a fun, noisy place again. The games against Rider and Iona were sellouts, the first back-to-back sellouts in the cozy arena (capacity: 2,100) since it opened in 1984.
On Sunday, even with a noon start, there was still a good crowd of 1,200 on hand. (There was even a celebrity sighting. Cam Cameron was sitting courtside with his daughter.)
"I'm happy for the school, I'm happy for the players," Patsos said. "'Cause it's the players who did it, not me."
On the sidelines, he's still Mount St.Patsos, ready to blow at any moment if a Greyhound doesn't play hard or a ref blows a call. He stomps, he screams, he fills the air with the kind of violent curses that would make even the most hardened Jesuit run for the rosary beads.
But those who have been around him say he might have done his best coaching job this season. They say he's been teaching more and shouting less because this is a smart team with a great basketball IQ.
At a school with 3,700 students, Patsos continues to think big, too. His newest ideais a pre-Christmas tournament with the other four Division I schools in the area: Towson, Morgan, Coppin and UMBC.
Make it the center of the local basketball universe for a week, he says. Make it a must-see holiday showcase that kicks off the long season, something fans can look forward to all year.
But that's in the future. Right now, with the MAAC title and the NCAA tournament in their sights, the Greyhounds are all about the present. Which is why Patsos tries to find inspiration for his team anywhere he can.
Maybe that's why he had the Greyhounds watch "Love Story" on the long, dreary ride home after losing to Marist five days ago.
"Love Story?" The 1970s weeper starring Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw? About a doomed love affair and a sick, young bride?
"Because they'd never seen it," Patsos said. "Because we lost and they were mad in the locker room. I said: 'This is a game; that's real loss. See, it's not the end of the world when you lose on the road to Marist.'"
But a win on the road is even better. The Greyhounds play at Rider on Friday and at Manhattan on Sunday.
One game out with two to play. And they definitely have a chance.
Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."