Six months after leading Loyola to the NCAA tournament, the memories of March Madness still linger in the mind of Dylon Cormier.
There was the nonstop publicity in the days leading up to the Greyhounds’ matchup with second-seeded Ohio State; the anticipation of waiting for the tip at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh; hearing his name announced and seeing it displayed on the jumbotron; and finally taking the floor as part of Loyola’s first NCAA tournament team in 18 years.
But despite all the excitement that went along with the Greyhounds’ storybook season, the last thing Cormier wants to do now is reminisce about past successes.
“I'm looking forward to the first game, dropping that [MAAC championship] banner and getting it over with,” Cormier said. “[We need to forget] all about last season and what we did in the past. Move on with this season and get the first game out of the way.”
Though Cormier is looking forward, it’s worthwhile to look back at the Cardinal Gibbons grad’s sophomore season, and acknowledge that his commitment to the Greyhounds back in 2009 was one of the first steps toward making Loyola’s long-awaited NCAA tournament appearance possible.
An All-Baltimore Catholic League player for the Crusaders, Cormier was a statement recruit for Loyola. He lived up to the freshman hype by averaging 8.1 points and three rebounds during the 2010-11 season, earning a spot on The Sun’s inaugural Sweet 16 list. But even as the beginning of his college career unfolded, Cormier wasn’t necessarily expecting to play in an NCAA tournament.
“Not at the beginning. Not at all,” he said. “I was just always … hoping to improve and do what we had to do to get better. Trying to get over .500. We kept pushing. Two years later, we kind of did what we had to do.”
The 2011-12 Greyhounds were a well-balanced team featuring four players that averaged double figures in scoring. The improvement from Cormier, in particular, made Loyola players believe they had a legitimate shot at the MAAC championship. A 24-point loss, oddly enough, convinced Cormier that the Greyhounds’ tournament goals were within reach.
“I would say the Kentucky game,” Cormier said. “After that, I pretty much was like, that’s the highest-level game we could play. They were national champions. We hung in there. I just saw a glimpse of what we could be. They were head and shoulders above any other team of that caliber. That was the starting point.”
From there, Loyola beat Bucknell to finish its nonconference record at 11-4. Then the Greyhounds embarked upon their 13-5 MAAC season, with Cormier often playing the role of leading scorer. The 6-foot-2, 183-pound combo guard was Loyola’s second-leading scorer at 13.4 points per game. He shot 46 percent from the field and grabbed 3.3 rebounds per game.
The aftermath of Loyola’s 48-44 win over Fairfield for the MAAC tournament title, and its 78-59 loss to Ohio State in the NCAA tournament, has been interesting for Cormier. Around campus, the Greyhounds “get a lot of love” from other students. The Loyola men’s lacrosse team is defending national champions, but the excitement over basketball season on Cold Spring Lane is palpable. But not much has changed for Cormier.
“I've just been working harder. That's it,” Cormier said. “Workouts, [I’m] not trying to stay in the gym for just three hours. [I’ll stay for] hours and hours at a time. Just my thing [is] to do workouts harder. [I’ll go] 15 minutes, 20 minutes like as hard as I possibly can.”
Cormier has been elected a team captain for the second-straight season, so leading vocally and by example will be something he’s tasked with this year. With the graduation of Shane Walker and the transfer of Justin Drummond to Toledo, Cormier expects to take on more of the scoring load. He’s also hoping to increase his rebound and assist totals.
The No. 1 priority, however, hasn’t changed. The Greyhounds are hoping for another MAAC championship and NCAA tournament appearance. For Cormier, the pressure to repeat is definitely on.
“But it's good pressure,” he said. “I talk to the team all the time. I tell them we're going to have a target on our backs. It's just what it's going to be. We need to keep playing and see what happens, be level headed. Don't hold back. Nobody's really cocky. … It’s always hard to repeat and do as good as you did last year. But [we’re] trying to focus on one game at a time. We’re not focused on last season. We’ll take it game by game when the opportunity presents itself.”
The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times