Although the Loyola men’s basketball team won’t be competing on the court for another two months, the Ramblers’ new head coach Drew Valentine is already preparing for the season ahead.
Valentine took the reins as head coach of the Ramblers squad April 5 after former head coach Porter Moser announced his departure for the University of Oklahoma, The Phoenix reported.
Before stepping in as head coach, Valentine spent four years serving as an assistant coach under Moser and said he credits that experience for putting him in his current position at Loyola.
“We’re really fortunate that [Valentine] has been with us,” Sister Jean said. “He knows the process and the team, and they know him — we are very lucky that Drew said yes.”
Throughout his years at Loyola, Valentine said he has developed as a coach as a result of the values that exist within the Ramblers program, especially when it comes down to the details.
“I think I’ve gotten better at evaluating the program, prospects, our team and other teams from a scouting perspective,” Valentine told The Phoenix. “That culture requires a certain amount of attention to detail [and mine] just went up.”
Among the players who have seen Valentine develop as a coach during his time at Loyola is graduate guard and Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) 2021 Defensive Player of the Year Lucas Williamson.
Valentine arrived in Rogers Park the same year Williamson did as a first-year in 2017. Over their time together with the Ramblers squad, they have seen two NCAA tournament appearances — the 2018 Final Four and the 2021 Sweet Sixteen — and three MVC regular-season championships.
“As the years went by, his role changed,” Williamson said. “He went from being the guy that was learning the culture to the guy that was telling the coaches and incoming freshmen about the culture. He definitely progressed and made some leaps as a coach and as a leader.”
Williamson will be returning alongside three other seniors to the Ramblers squad as a graduate student after capitalizing on the extra year of eligibility that the NCAA offered student-athletes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although he said the coaching staff wasn’t the largest factor in his decision process, Williamson said he’s excited to return with Valentine as the head coach.
“I was really trying to make the decision based on what was best for my future and myself,” Williamson said. “Once I weighed out my options, it’s only an added bonus that I’m coming back and having Drew be the head coach — I’m coming back to something new and fresh but still something similar.”
Over their years together, Valentine and Williamson witnessed the development of the program on and off the court and the increase in its name recognition across the country. Valentine said he credits this growth with forming his visions for the future of the program.
“People now know the kind of [players] that we bring in,” Valentine said. “That speaks to the brand that we have here, they know that we’re about doing things the right way — hard work, unselfishness, toughness, competitiveness.”
Looking ahead to the start of the season, Valentine said his goal is to remain consistent with the values that have been instilled into the program by his predecessors while adding his own approach to coaching.
“I want to remain committed to what I feel like helped get me the job,” Valentine said. “I don’t want to stray too far from the path, but at the same time I want to be me and put my twist on the culture.”
While Sister Jean also spoke to Valentine’s preexisting coaching experience under Moser, she also expressed the need for Valentine to develop his own ways of coaching and encouraging the Ramblers squad.
“I have a feeling that [Valentine] is going to speed up the momentum of the [team],” Sister Jean said. “He has to do it his way if he’s going to be loud and give directions to people on the court. I really believe that he wants this too and I’m sure his new coaches will want to help him.”
After a successful 2021 season that saw the Ramblers return to the Sweet Sixteen, Loyola Athletics is preparing to finally welcome fans back to basketball games for the 2021-2022 season.
The Ramblers currently hold a 27-2 record in the MVC in their last four years playing at home and went 13-0 last season at Gentile Arena.
Sister Jean said this home record makes her excited for the upcoming season and she’s enjoying seeing how people have been reacting to the team coming off their recent March Madness run.
“It’s just fun to look forward to all of this and to read about how people are talking about us now,” Sister Jean said. “You’d be surprised how many people are saying ‘when’s the first game?’ These students can hardly wait to go to the first game, and that makes me really happy.”
Loyola will open their 2021-2022 season at home on Nov. 9 against Coppin State University. Time and broadcast details have yet to be announced.