After back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) championships and a run to the 2018 Final Four, the Loyola men’s basketball team enters a season full of “transition.”
Gone are the faces who helped raise this program to the national spotlight — including guards Marques Townes and Clayton Custer, and coaches Bryan Mullins and Jevon Mamon, who left the program this offseason. Despite this, the Ramblers and their returning head coach Porter Moser still see a program with plenty of optimism and have remained adamant that regardless of who’s on the court and running practice, the high standards the program has built will remain.
“The standards we’ve created here with our guys on and off the floor, the way we share the ball, the effort and enthusiasm, nothing’s going to change,” Moser said.
Both key contributors to the program’s elevation to national relevance, Mullins and Mamon headed south for Carbondale this offseason after Mullins accepted the Salukis’ head coaching spot and named Mamon his top assistant. Attempting to replace these “program builders,” Moser began by bringing in a pair of coaches from other teams.
These coaches, video coordinator Patrick Wallace and assistant coach Jermaine Kimbrough from Northwestern University and the University of Wyoming, respectively, have brought the much-needed energy this summer as they acclimate to life at Loyola according to Moser.
“This is my ninth summer, and coaching changes are something that I’ve always had to deal with,” Moser said. “I’ve always prided myself on hiring guys that have high energy, so our additions Jeremaine Kimbrough [and] Patrick Wallace have been absolutely phenomenal for us this summer.”
Alongside these new coaches, Moser is also overseeing one of the largest changes of personnel he’s experienced in his time at Loyola. The program welcomed seven new players since last season as they attemptto replace back-to-back players of the year Townes and Custer.
“Now we miss two guys’ production, you’re talking about back-to-back players of the year so it’s [going to] have to be by committee,” Moser said. “You can’t put it all on one guy, but we’re lucky enough to have some serious new talent coming in to replace these guys.”
This new talent — Keith Clemons, Jalon Pipkins, Tate Hall, Braden Norris, Marquise Kennedy, Tom Welch and Paxson Wojcik — six of which will be on the active roster this season. These players include a pair of junior college transfers (Clemons, Pipkins), a redshirt junior coming off his sit out year (Hall) and a talented trio of first-years (Kennedy, Welch, Wojcik) who’ve been dubbed by media pundits and coaches as Moser’s best recruiting class ever.
Attempting to replace the production of both Townes and Custer will be no cake walk, according to Moser. Turning to a committee, Moser said he envisions a full team effort from both his returners and new recruits. Despite this tough task they face, junior guard Lucas Williamson said the team is up for the challenge and that they’re faster and longer than they’ve ever been during his tenure in Rogers Park.
“Our length and athleticism is the best that I’ve ever played with and ever seen here at Loyola,”
Williamson said. “We’re going to be very scary defensively and hopefully we can use our length defensively and turn that into easy offense.”
Williamson, along with first-team All-MVC center Cameron Krutwig, headline a nucleus of returning talent that Moser said will continue to improve and integrate with his new arrivals. The Rambler’s coach said he hopes to take a different approach from seasons past with a faster and longer team that can wreak havoc on both ends of the floor.
Even though the season’s more than two months away, Moser and the Ramblers have already started their transition from the players and coaches of years past. And despite the uncertainties it presents and all the challenges he and his program face entering 2019, Moser said transitions like these are what college basketball is all about.
“Every year is a new challenge and yes, we lost some very productive guys, but that’s the beauty of it,” Moser said. “To see how much you can grow with the new set of guys combined with the returning guys and that’s the real fun part of what we have to do.”