With eight new players on this year’s roster and the departure of forwards Montel James and Julius Rajala, questions have arisen as to how the Loyola men’s basketball team will be able to compete in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) this season.
Last season, the Ramblers finished with a losing record, finishing 15-17 overall and 7-11 in the MVC. The 2015-16 season had disappointing results after the previous year, when Loyola finished with a 24-13 overall record, capping off the season with a College Basketball Invitational championship.
James was one of head coach Porter Moser’s only big-men, but Rajala relieved James occasionally. Junior forward Maurice Kirby rarely saw playing time, only averaging 6.9 minutes per game.
Outside the arc, White was a facilitator and led the team with his strong ball movement. Peterson was a sharpshooter and was able to make key plays in the backcourt.
With all these players gone, the question remains: Who will replace them?
Moser recruited four first-year players and four transfers to his squad. Redshirt sophomore Clayton Cluster is eligible to play this season after sitting out the previous season following a transfer from Iowa State University.
Moser had the opportunity to test the waters with his refreshed roster, leading the team on an international tour in Spain this August.
Moser told The PHOENIX back in April that building team chemistry and seeing the potential in his new team the purpose of the trip. It was important for the Ramblers to develop team chemistry quickly in order to have success not only in Spain, but also in the season ahead.
During the team’s 10-day trip, the players traveled to Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia, touring popular attractions and playing a four-game tour. All the teams the Ramblers faced varied in age and were a collection of European professional athletes and college athletes. Junior guard Ben Richardson said head coach Porter Moser emphasized team bonding and gaining confidence throughout the trip.
In the first game, Loyola beat the Barcelona All-Stars 76-59. Senior guard Milton Doyle and junior guard Ben Richardson led the team, scoring 22 and 16 points, respectively. Kirby pulled down a team-high of 10 rebounds.
“Being able to play well gave me confidence and I hope to continue that,” said Kirby.
Loyola found success in its next three games. The Ramblers beat the Valencia All-Stars 96-61 and defeated the Madrid All-Stars 84-51. Loyola also faced a tight matchup against Eurcolegio Casvi, but pulled out the win 69-67.
The game against Eurocolegio Casvi in Madrid was the most significant to the team, according to Richardson and Kirby. It was the closest game of the tour, but the Ramblers snatched the win by two points to take Eurcolegio Casvi 69-67. Richardson said he was pleased with the game because it was a team effort.
“We had a really tough game where we had to grit it out and show we knew how to win,” said Richardson. “Getting to [have this experience] before the season starts makes [the newcomers] more like veterans before the season actually starts.”
Kirby said it was nice to see the team come together for a win. Whether it was catching rebounds, defending well, scoring or getting to the free throw line, it was a team win.
Richardson said he was proud of the team’s overall performance throughout the tour.
“We know we can control our effort, so we tried to bring our effort [and intensity to] every game,” Richardson said.
He also said the players felt team chemistry on the court during each game and he was impressed with the way everyone came together despite the varying levels of experience. Richardson said the tough in-game situations they experienced during the Spain tour allowed them to learn and improve.
“Every game, I think each one of them got better at something,” Richardson said. “Whether it was responding to something coach said, or running a play better, each one of them had something they improved on. I think that was just another thing that was so big because without having those four games before the school year starts, you don’t get those moments.”
The men’s basketball team is back in Chicago. The Ramblers won’t have a full-team practice until October because of NCAA regulations and they won’t play another game until November. But the chemistry the team developed on the court in Spain is a significant step toward competing in the MVC this season.