Gentile Arena is quiet. The fans are gone. The seats are pushed in. The Band of Wolves is resting.
But if you walk into Loyola men’s basketball head coach Porter Moser’s office in Norville Athletic Center, you’d have no idea it’s the offseason. He sits in his chair with last season’s scoring numbers in front of him, game film ready to go on the TV and a whiteboard filled with notes hanging on the wall — reflecting on the season that just ended.
A YEAR IN REVIEW
Coming off a College Basketball Invitational tournament win, the Ramblers went into 2015 with high expectations. USA Today predicted Loyola as one of the potential mid-major Cinderella teams, but that didn’t quite happen.
Although the Ramblers played a tougher non-conference schedule than normal, Loyola pulled an exciting 68-65 upset over Creighton University on Dec. 5. The Ramblers entered conference play with a 7-5 record, which was followed by five straight Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) losses. Four of those first five games were lost by two points or less. The team struggled in conference play once again and finished 15-16 overall, No. 8 in the MVC.
That string of losses and the struggles all season can be attributed to a decrease in the team’s shooting percentage, according to Moser. Each of the top seven scorers’ shooting percentage decreased by an average of more than 5 percent, with the exception of senior guard Devon Turk. His three-point percentage decreased, but overall, his shooting percentage improved. The Ramblers averaged 64.3 points per game and finished the season ranked No. 9 out of 10 in the MVC in scoring offense.
On top of a lack of production, Loyola toiled with rebounding. The Ramblers averaged nearly a negative five rebound differential per game, which was the worst rebounding margin in the MVC — even with Montel James as the third best rebounder in the conference.
WHAT THEY’RE LOSING
The Ramblers will lose four seniors to graduation, along with first-year forward Pernell Adgei and sophomore forward Jay Knuth, whose reasons for leaving the team are unknown.
James led the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 12.4 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game. At 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, James added size in the post, which helped him block 28 shots this season.
Guard Devon Turk left his mark on Loyola’s program, making the most three-point shots by any individual player in Loyola men’s basketball history. Turk shot 36 percent from behind the arc and sunk 52 three-point shots this season.
Guards Earl Peterson and Jeff White were successful at moving the ball. Peterson led the team with 64 assists, and White followed with 57 assists. Moser said Peterson and White were impactful leaders on the team, and he recognized how hard it will be to replace their leadership.
FILLING THE VOID
The team’s needs are clear: rebounding, size in the post, scoring and leadership.
Moser will welcome eight new recruits to fill the voids left by the departing players.
Loyola signed three junior college transfers: Treyvon Andres, Aundre Jackson and Vlatko Granic. Andres, who was a forward at Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado, was one of the best blockers in the Junior College Division. Andres will play a similar role as Christian Thomas, who graduated from Loyola in 2015. The two forwards have similar size and skill sets.
Jackson is a consistent shooter, as he averaged 15 points per game this season. Jackson, who was a forward at McLennan Community College in Texas, shot 65 percent from the field last season and held the fifth highest shooting percentage in the nation among junior college players.
Granic averaged nearly 14 points per game and 10 rebounds as a forward for Weatherford College. At 6-foot-8 and 222 pounds, he’ll add depth in the frontcourt, which the team lacks without James.
Loyola also signed Marques Townes, a guard from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He averaged nearly 12 points and four rebounds per game, and he competed in the NCAA tournament last season. Townes will bring experience and a competitive drive to Moser’s squad, but Loyola will have to wait to see him take the court.
Townes will sit out next season, due to NCAA transfer rules, but he will enter the 2017-18 season with two years of NCAA eligibility remaining.
Moser also inked four first-year recruits: Matt Chastain, Cameron Satterwhite, Bruno Skokna and Jake Baughman.
As a senior at LeRoy High School in LeRoy, Illinois, Chastain helped his team win a state title last season. He finished his career as LeRoy’s all-time leader in points and rebounds. As a 6-foot-6 forward, Chastain is expected to see some court time. Teams in the MVC such as Illinois State University, Indiana State University and the University of Evansville heavily recruited Chastain.
Satterwhite wrapped up his senior season at Gilbert Christian Academy in Gilbert, Arizona, as a top-50 shooting guard in the nation and the second best in his state.
Moser said he was especially impressed by Chastain and Satterwhite’s athleticism. He said the two need to get stronger, but their raw talent is undeniable.
“[Satterwhite] is a human highlight reel [in regards to] dunking … [and Chastain] is another high-flying athlete,” Moser said. “Both [players] are elbows-above-the-rim [athletes] … We haven’t had high-flying athletes like that.”
Lastly, Skonka, who played for Croatia’s national team, is a well-rounded guard and can handle the ball in the backcourt. In the European Under-18 tournament, he averaged 17 points, four rebounds and three assists. At 6-foot-4, he adds experience from an international stage and depth to the backcourt.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The majority of Moser’s recruits are offensive-minded. Moser said the new team will grind on defense like last season, but after a lackluster shooting year by the Ramblers, he wanted a somewhat fresh start offensively.
One player who is expected to make a difference is Iowa State University transfer Clayton Custer, who sat out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. Custer will join his former high school teammate Ben Richardson on the court. Custer and Richardson won two state championships together at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Kansas. When they played their last game together as seniors, they didn’t expect to play on the same court again.
“[Clayton and I] have a lot of chemistry that is just kind of unexplainable,” said Richardson. “We can really play off of each other and make each other better.”
The dynamic duo is expected to replace Turk around the perimeter and become the two new three-point specialists. Last season, Richardson shot 40 percent from behind the arc and sank 48 three-point shots.
Moser said Richardson will need to step up as a leader during the offseason and into the regular season.
“I think Ben is going to establish himself as a leader,” said Moser. “He’s our best perimeter defender. He’s really gritty [and] makes so many good, winning plays.”
Moser is also likely to utilize junior Maurice Kirby in the paint. Kirby uses his 6-foot-10 frame to tower over the majority of big men in the MVC. Kirby can play spot minutes to give relief to Julius Rajala before he turns into a regular rotation player.
In the backcourt, guard Milton Doyle enters his senior season as one of the top scorers in Loyola basketball history.
His buzzer-beating game-winner against Bradley University will go down as one of the most memorable shots in MVC tournament history, but Doyle hasn’t been the same since. His game has taken a step back the last two seasons as his development has seemingly slowed down.
Moser was forced to bench Doyle because of numerous injuries and poor shooting spells. Moser said Doyle is capable of becoming a stronger player, but he needs to take initiative in his own development.
“Milton has to establish himself,” Moser said. “I’ve never seen him be more committed to working harder [until now] … The great thing about [Doyle] is … he’s not making excuses … It always starts with your better players, and it’s got to start with [Doyle].”
Lastly, when Donte Ingram took the court for the Ramblers for the first time, there was no question about his athleticism. Over the past two seasons, Ingram has continued to develop as a well-rounded player. He will be essential in the frontcourt for the Ramblers to succeed. Last season, he grabbed 96 defensive rebounds.
Gentile Arena won’t host any basketball games until November, but Moser already has his eyes set on the upcoming season.