In 2013, Loyola joined the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) and the men’s basketball team finished the season with a record of 4-14 in conference play during the 2013-14 season.
Since then, men’s basketball head coach Porter Moser has been rebuilding the program to create a winning culture. Four years later, the Ramblers went 15-3 and won the MVC regular season title this season.
Moser is finishing up his seventh season with the Ramblers and, with the help of assistant coach Matt Gordon, has changed the culture of the Loyola men’s basketball program.
Moser and Gordon developed their coaching style from the late Rick Majerus, who’s considered one of the greatest college basketball coaches in history. Both Moser and Gordon worked with Majerus at St. Louis University (SLU) for four years and have carried on what they learned to Loyola.
“A lot of those phrases and sayings that we use every day with the guys come from Coach Majerus,” Gordon said. “His little sayings and phrases … are the rules in which we play by. Because of those little rules, those little sayings, those little teachings, the guys — this really happened at SLU when we coached there — the guys started to view the game and see the game through Coach Majerus’ eyes.”
Gordon, who has been working with Moser since he was the team manager during Moser’s time as head coach at Illinois State University, said Moser’s hard work has helped make the program what it is today.
“When I talk about the energy … he’s the leader driving that bus,” Gordon said. “What we are experiencing now, he has had this vision since he got the job. He knew it wasn’t going to be an overnight fix, he knew it wasn’t going to be something [like] ‘All right, we’re going to throw this together in a short amount of time.’ We needed to build it with kids of great culture and he needed to cultivate that culture with the right kids.”
Moser talks a lot about the culture of the team, with the athletes describing the culture as the small things everybody has to buy into in order for the team to succeed. Senior guard Donte Ingram said the reason the team finished this season with so many wins is because it bought into those saying and rules.
In the team’s locker room, there’s a wall they call the Wall of Culture. The Wall of Culture is a bunch of sayings, rules and phrases painted on the wall for all of the athletes to see. The things painted on the wall not only mean a lot to Moser, but they mean a lot to the athletes as well.
“We got a culture wall in our locker room. We could point at any one of those terms and I could tell you what they mean,” Ingram said. “Coming and getting this success we have been getting is because we are buying into those things and every single thing to keep a tight locker room and having guys bought in and willing to do all the things that it takes to win.”
Gordon said the athletes are starting to see the game through Majerus’ eyes by not just watching the game as a fan, but by analyzing other teams’ games and watching their plays.
“That has taken shape here too now,” Gordon said. “Our guys are constantly watching games and we will come back in and say ‘Hey did you guys watch the game last night?’ and all of them are like ‘Yeah, we watched it, we watched them run this action and this action’ as opposed to when we first got here. They watch every game that’s going on, they are totally invested in what we are doing.”
Having athletes who buy into the “process” is important to help create a team culture. With the seniors, such as Ingram, committing to the process and working hard every day in practice and during the games, Moser said they’re the ones who have helped change the program.
“When you take over, those older guys don’t know how you are doing things,” Moser said. “Our young guys come in, all they know is how hard Ben Richardson, how hard Donte Ingram [work], how they think and how they prepare. That part of it takes time and culture. That is why it is so hard nowadays to do that because people don’t want to [take] the time. That is the big part of the process is having the older guys buy in.”
Once the older players begin to adapt to the culture, they can begin to teach the young athletes the ways of the program. Senior forward Aundre Jackson echoed Moser and said being devoted to the process is the most important thing athletes can do during their time at Loyola, and without it, they’d be lost.
“Just really telling [the new guys] to buy in because if you don’t buy in then it is going to be a bad experience for you,” Jackson said. “If you buy in, you get whatever you want. Everybody shares the ball and everybody hangs out all night. If you buy in it will feel like a family.”
Former Rambler Milton Doyle, who has a two-way contract with the Brooklyn Nets and their G-League affiliate Long Island Nets, has also played a huge role in helping build the program at Loyola. Having a Chicago athlete choose to attend school in Chicago has opened doors for the program. It’s shown local students Loyola is a school where you can receive a great education while continuing to pursue your basketball career, according to Gordon.
When Gordon and Moser started at Loyola, nobody on the roster was from the Chicagoland area. Now, five of the 16 athletes are from within 50 miles of Loyola. Gordon said this isn’t the only aspect of the program Doyle has helped with.
“[Doyle] was a tremendous leader from a knowledge standpoint,” Gordon said. “He did a very good job, when we are in practice he would be telling guys ‘This is what to look for.’ He had been through so many games, he had played and started every game as a freshman. Then he got injured throughout his sophomore year so he was starting to watch the game through a coach’s eyes. Even when he was injured and sitting out he was talking to the guys.”
The Ramblers defeated Illinois State University Feb. 24, 68-61. This win brought their final record to 25-5 overall and 15-3 in conference play. Although it was their last game of the season, the team wasn’t thinking about the MVC tournament, according to Ingram. Like Doyle, many of the seniors are trying to lead by example and use the “process” that Moser has taught them all about and take it one game at a time.
“[I’m] trying to play [my] hardest and give [my] best efforts,” Ingram said. “So when the younger guys see that they [know] what the tone [of the team] is and they see that the tone has been set. They know they are going to come in here, we are going to play our butts off and do everything to win and whatever we can do to contribute to the team we are going to do.”
The Ramblers are traveling to St. Louis this week to play in the MVC tournament. They are scheduled to play the winner of the University of Evansville vs. University of Northern Iowa game March 2 at noon.