Jimmy Patsos talks to his players during a break in action against… (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy…)
Jimmy Patsos got what he wanted after all.
"Three games in March," he said Sunday after Loyola beat Manhattan, 63-61, at Reitz Arena.
Three games to win the upcoming Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships and get the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.
All he wanted was a shot at it. He doesn't ask for the sky, the moon and the stars above. But now Loyola, the little Catholic school at the corner of Charles St. and Cold Spring Lane, gets a chance to win three games in March and go to the Big Dance. Again.
Patsos will take that every time.
Oh, you should have seen him work the sidelines as Loyola won its 21st game to go 12-6 in the MAAC and lock up the third seed in the tournament.
In his ninth season at Loyola, Patsos remains one of the great sports characters in this town. And I mean that in the best sense of the word. He's loud, emotional, profane, demanding, inquisitive and fiercely devoted to his players.
And get this: he has this quaint notion that the Greyhounds are college students first. It was drummed into his head by the late John Wooden, the legendary "Wizard of Westwood" who coached UCLA to all those national championships in the 60s and 70s.
"One of his most important philosophies [was] these are college students who happen to be good at basketball," Patsos said last week. "That was one of Wooden's big things. That's why he wanted to teach them about life."
Patsos tries to teach his kids about life, too. So on their 15 different road trips this season covering nearly 15,000 miles across the country, Patsos says the Greyhounds were forced to endure what he calls "my cultural BS."
To that end, they visited the EMP (Experience Music Project) Museum in Seattle. They took a driving tour of the grand mansions of Newport, R.I. They saw Niagara Falls. They took in a Broadway show ("Golden Boy.")
They visited Graceland, where Elvis Presley gorged on peanut-butter-banana-and-bacon sandwiches and a daily buffet of codeine, morphine, Demerol and God knows what else. They visited another Memphis landmark, too, the Lorraine Motel, where another American icon, Martin Luther King Jr., was gunned down.
Patsos is also big on showing the 'Hounds movies. Movies that educate. Movies that inspire.
"Red Auerbach gave me the movies thing," he says of the NBA Hall of Fame coach and executive of the Boston Celtics. "Red Auerbach, [Bill] Russell, [Bob] Cousy, they all used to go to the movies. They really had to travel together back then. You were really a group. [Red] told me 'At this level, mid-major, you're traveling more like we used to, on buses.'
"Maryland plays now, they're gone at 8 o'clock at night," Patsos continued. "They land at 9. They eat and go to bed. They wake up, shoot, play and they're back. And that's great. That's the way it should be. 'Cause that's the level they're at.
"We're more: this is a two-day road trip to play one game, not a 17-hour road trip to play one game. It's more like 34. You're gonna be together."
So they watched "Argo" and talked about the Iranian hostage crisis. They watched "To Sir with Love," the Sidney Poitier classic and talked about racism and rising above tough times. They watched Mel Gibson in the "The Road Warrior" and talked about leadership.
"What did Mad Max teach us in 'The Road Warrior?'" Patsos said. "'I'll drive the tanker!' You gotta want to drive the tanker."
There were hits and misses with the players.
"Moonrise Kingdom?" Big miss.
"They said: 'What's this? Two little kids lost in the woods in Maine at a camp in the 60s, there's no black people in the movie, this stunk and you got it wrong,'" Patsos says with a laugh. "I said 'I'll take it, you're right.' I took the F."
But Patsos hasn't taken many F's at Loyola. Look what he's done for this basketball program.
Back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in the school's Division I history dating back to the '81-82 season. Players who graduate. (Erik Etherly, the big forward who dropped 30 points on Manhattan, is a grad student. So is starting forward Anthony Winbush.)
Players who don't show up in the police blotter.
Loyola came into this season with a target on its back after winning the MAAC tournament last year and going to the Big Dance. But Patsos coached his butt off with a veteran team that bought into his system.
Some will tell you he's mellowed, which sounds laughable when you watch him stomp and scream at his players and work the refs as he did Sunday. But the volcanic temper is kept in check more these days. And he's cleaned up the legendary swear-fests that would peel the tiles off Reitz Arena and make little old ladies in the first 20 rows faint.
"I didn't coach differently," he said. "I like this team. I've been calmer the last two or three years. I'm older, anyway. I'm 46, not 36. I'm married."
Now he gets another shot at three games in March. It starts Friday night with a 9:30 p.m. rematch against Manhattan in Springfield, Mass.
No one knows where it ends. But right now, Patsos is OK with that, too.
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