2023-24 Men’s Basketball Preview: Valentine and Company Gear Up For Second Season in A-10

In their first season in the Atlantic-10 conference, Loyola failed to meet expectations set by prior years.

In their first season in the Atlantic-10 conference, Loyola failed to meet expectations set by prior years. The team held a record of 10-21 and 4-11 in conference play, leading to one of the only times head coach Drew Valentine didn’t win 20 or more games in a season.

The Ramblers finished 13th out of 15 teams for scoring, averaging 67.4 points per game. The team also had the fewest shot attempts in the A-10 with 1,638 and were the only team in the conference to not surpass 1,000 rebounds. 

Loyola also struggled in non-conference play and dropped a hard fought game against Red Line Rival DePaul University 78-72 in overtime. The team conference record was good enough for the last place 15th seed in the A-10 Conference Championship tournament and were bounced out early in the week, losing their opening game to Saint Joseph’s University 72-67.  

The New Additions 

Desmond Watson comes from A-10 foe Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. The third-year guard stands at 6’5” and logged a game average of 9.5 points per game last season, improving his career point to 398. At Davidson, Watson played in 66 games, averaging 20.9 minutes between both seasons. In his last season, he started in 18 of 32 games played. Watson’s strength in the past has been free-throws marking a career average of 74.5%. 

Greg Dolan, a graduate student from Cornell University, is finishing his collegiate eligibility at Loyola. Over three seasons at Cornell, Dolan played in 68 games, starting in 41 of them. In his career he totaled 1539 minutes averaging 22.6 per game. Dolan – in his last season – was named to the second-team all-Ivy League and led the team with 13.3 points per game. He served the past two years as a team captain for Cornell.

Patrick Mwamba is in his sixth year of collegiate play, transferring from Oral Roberts and University of Texas Arlington. The 6’7” forward has played in 117 games starting in 56 of them. Throughout his career, he has racked up 804 points with 268 being credited to his one year at Oral Roberts. Mwamba is highlighted as the first graduate of the NBA Academy of Africa to sign to a Division I school.

Dame Adelekun is finishing his collegiate career as a graduate student coming from Dartmouth. Playing a total of 47 games in his last two seasons, Adelekun averaged a 57.2% field goal percentage. In his 38 starts, Adelekun averages 21.1 minutes per game. He has six recorded double doubles and a total of 527 points in his last two seasons at Dartmouth. 

Miles Rubin, a 6’10” Chicago native, officially signed with Loyola on Nov. 11, declining offers from DePaul University, Southern Illinois University and others. In his last year of high school, Rubin was named a top 10 recruit by the Chicago Sun Times. Rubin has received multiple accolades in his high school career, such as Second Team All-City, First Team All-Defensive and Sixth Man of the year. 

In addition to new players, the program made several additions to the coaching staff. Will Bailey and Justin Bradley joined as assistant coaches to the team, Jarod Crumpley joined as the new Director of Basketball Operations and Keith Clemons – former Rambler – as Director of Player Development. 

Games to Look Out For 

Loyola will officially open up their season Nov. 8 against No. 10 Florida Atlantic University in a neutral site game at Wintrust Arena in Chicago’s South Loop Neighborhood. Over Thanksgiving break, Loyola will take on another pre-season top ten team in No. 8 Creighton University Nov. 22. These contests early in the season against ranked opponents will test the strength of this year’s new-look Ramblers squad.

The Ramblers will get to take on cross-town rivals the University of Illinois-Chicago in the friendly bounds of Gentile Arena Nov. 14. The Ramblers and Flames have met 38 times since 2000 with Loyola leading the head-to-head matchup 20-18. 

Valentine and company get A-10 play underway just after the new year when they will travel to St. Louis to take on Saint Louis University Jan. 3. The Ramblers will get a shot at heavyweights Dayton University, who topped the A-10 preseason poll, in Gentile Arena March 1. 

Loyola will host Saint Joseph’s Feb. 14 in an opportunity for the squad to get revenge on the team which eliminated them last season.

The A-10 Conference Championship Tournament will take place in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York from March 12 through 17. 

Drew’s Views

Head coach Drew Valentine reflected on the team’s struggles last season, admitting a losing season is something he isn’t used to. Valentine said the down-season the team experienced in 2022-23 has informed the way both the players and staff have been preparing in summer training camps and fall practices. 

“The way that I’ve kind of looked at it and framed it to our players is as a year of growth, and I think we were able to grow, get better,” he said. “And one thing about last year is that regardless of the outcomes that were happening out there on the floor, our guys competed, and they were good representatives of the program as characters and as individuals.”

Valentine said the group of transfers the Ramblers were able to bring in during the offseason bring experience in winning to the team and added the new players have made an immediate impact during practices. 

“I think that they bring a winning, championship level intensity that our program needed as well as the maturity in how they go about things, how they approach their individual growth and development and how they approach winning,” Valentine said.

He also highlighted new edition first-year forward Miles Rubin as someone he thinks will make a major impact and added how second-year guards Jayden Dawson and Jalen Quinn have developed over the offseason and will see more playing time this season. 

In regards to the top teams on the Rambler’s schedule early in the season, Valentine said he is confident the team is ready for the challenge. 

“I think when you come to a program like Loyola, you want to play against the best, you want to play championship level games,” he said. “That’s one of the things that we talk about in recruiting is you’re going to play against the best and we want to challenge ourselves every offseason. That’s always been a focal point for us.”

This story was written by Griffin Krueger and Andi Revesz

Featured image courtesy of Steve Woltmann | Loyola Athletics

The Phoenix Staff

The Phoenix Staff