After watching the Loyola men’s basketball team for the past three and a half years like I have, you learn a thing or two about head coach Porter Moser’s coaching.
You become able to predict when Moser is going to throw his jacket off and when he’s going to drop into his signature “Porter’s squat.”
You also learn when he’s going to yank a player from a game.
While the program has continued to progress since joining the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) in 2013, one thing has become commonplace: some of his players’ development tends to plateau, especially the “big men” on the court.
There are a lot of reasons why players may get static throughout their careers. For some, they naturally peak earlier than others. Some have careers haunted by injuries. And still others, the players’ mental game idles, which affects their performances on the court.
While injuries and peaking too early are certainly problems the men’s basketball team has dealt with, it’s the mental game that affects performance.
Look at the Wichita State game Feb. 12. After only four minutes of action, first-year guard Cameron Satterwhite messed up an inbound for Loyola, resulting in a turnover and basket for the Shockers. Moser immediately pointed to the middle of his bench to pick out a replacement for Satterwhite. Satterwhite sat out the rest of the game and didn’t play until the end of the game when Wichita State was out of reach.
Every coach has their own system and style. Moser’s style is to pull a player immediately after a mistake, a strategy which can, and probably has, ruined a player’s confidence. Rather than playing their game, players start to try avoiding mistakes and become less likely to take risks on the court.
Taking players out after one mistake knocks them off their rhythm and doesn’t let players work through their mistakes. As soon as a driving layup rims out or there’s a missed defensive assignment, the player at fault will look and find his replacement kneeling at the scorer’s table.
Some players are afraid to take shots, which results in a player not getting repetition. So when a player has the opportunity to shoot a potential game-winner, they’re out of rhythm. It’s a vicious cycle.
This especially holds true with some of Moser’s “big men.” If you look at his track record with post players, there’s a high turnover rate. Since the 2013-14 season, at least six forwards have prematurely left the program.
Former Ramblers forward Matt O’Leary came to Loyola in fall 2012 after leading his high school team. After averaging 17.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per contest his senior season in high school, the Ramblers saw O’Leary as a strong recruit. In his and Moser’s first season at Loyola, O’Leary played in every game and averaged 3.8 points and 2.3 boards per game. His sophomore season, O’Leary only improved to 4.2 points per game.
Every time O’Leary made a mistake at Loyola, it was expected he’d be replaced.
O’Leary transferred to IUPUI. After sitting out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations, O’Leary went on to average 10.3 points per game during the 2015-16 season, while playing similar minutes as he did at Loyola. This season, O’Leary is shooting 51.8 percent from the field and averaging 13.8 points per game for IUPUI.
Forward Julius Rajala is another forward who transferred from Loyola. After averaging 10 minutes and 3 points per game as a Rambler last season, Rajala is shooting 65 percent from the field at the University of Southern Indiana this season and averaging 11 points per contest.
O’Leary and Rajala’s stat increases could be an athlete finding a better team fit, or it could be that Moser’s pressure has been lifted from their shoulders.
Moser likes to play his shooters. And part of that might have to do with the style he grew up playing. The Missouri Valley Conference is also a shooting conference, so his system works against some teams, but it has cracks against teams with bigger players, such as Wichita State and Illinois State.
Former Loyola men’s basketball player Jeff White spent four years under Moser’s coaching. He said a lot goes on behind closed doors at practice, but players can’t take anything too personal.
“If [Moser] feels a specific person is not producing for the team — such as bringing energy, making plays or etcetera — he will [give] that opportunity to the next person,” said White. “Only the players and coaches know what goes on behind close doors … It’s nothing personal at all. [Moser] just wants you to be on point and have more positives than negatives.”
“I would say for some it does affect their confidence because they feel as if they have a small room for error,” White continued. “Therefore, they tend to be very tense afterwards because of fearing to make a mistake. It’s something as an athlete you have to prep yourself for mentally. Some use it as motivation to get better and eliminate those mistakes, while others let it affect them mentally.”
Despite this, Moser has positively changed the program and Loyola’s basketball culture. More and more fans are turning out to games on a consistent basis. In 2015, the men’s basketball team not only saw its first postseason game since 1985, but also won its first postseason tournament since 1963.