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Jimmy Patsos: 3 Loyola assistants are 'guys who know the business'

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There was a moment in last Monday's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament final against Fairfield when Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos stared for several seconds toward the court during a television timeout, holding his two index fingers close together between his eyes and nose.

Obviously angry, Patsos also seemed frozen, fixed on either a call he didn't like from one of the referees or a lapse from one of his players. Assistant coach Luke D'Alessio brought Patsos back to the huddle — and back to the moment.

"We try to keep everything calm," D'Alessio said. "The great thing about him is that when he's in that state … he is one of the few people I know who can still listen and process things very well."

As much credit as Patsos and his players have received for Loyola (24-8) making it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 years — the No. 15 seed Greyhounds will play No. 2 seed Ohio State (27-7) in Pittsburgh on Thursday night — Patsos also knows where the program would be without his assistant coaches.

The qualities that G.G. Smith, Greg Manning and D'Alessio bring have resulted in an upgrade in recruiting that led to local high school stars such as sophomore guard Dylon Cormier (Cardinal Gibbons) and freshman point guard R.J. Williams (St. Frances) staying home for college, as well as an improvement in scouting and bench coaching.

Smith, 35, who played for his father Tubby at Georgia and later coached under him at Kentucky, joined the staff five years ago. Manning, 26, whose father Greg played for Lefty Driesell at Maryland, was one of Patsos' first recruits when he took the Loyola job eight years ago and has never left. D'Alessio, 52, was an assistant at Catholic University when Patsos played there and later was a head coach himself, taking Bowie State to the Division II Final Four in 2003.

Instead of Patsos, 45, getting unwanted attention such as the kind he received during a nine-day span in 2008 for going into the stands during a game against Cornell and sitting next to former athletic director Joe Boylan, or for devising a gameplan to double-team Davidson guard Stephon Curry and holding the All-American scoreless during what turned out to be an embarrassing 30-point defeat, Patsos is now being hailed as the MAAC's Coach of the Year.

Where Patsos seemed to be a mirror image of Gary Williams throughout his 14 years as an assistant at Maryland, at least during games, the Loyola assistants appear to have contrasting personalities from their boss.

"Me and Jimmy are complete opposites. He's at one end of the coaching spectrum and I'm at the other. I'm laid back," Smith said. "But our staff and Jimmy complement each other very well. We all do things a little differently. We've just got to keep Jimmy under control and so when he has to make a decision, he makes a good one. "

Said Manning, who has worked his way up from a graduate assistant: "We have a good mix. He gets excited sometimes and me and G.G. have been with him for a while now, we just keep our cool and make sure the guys are level-headed. It's good to have someone who's real fiery and someone who's even-keel. It helps in situations where you have to get on guys and when you need to cool them down."

Asked if he purposely surrounds himself with assistants who are much less demonstrative as he can be, Patsos said, "It was a conscious decision to get good basketball people. Brian Blaney was here at the beginning, he's now at Providence. I was very lucky. Brian Blaney's dad is George Blaney (a former Holy Cross head coach who is now an assistant at Connecticut).

"I want guys who know the business. I don't want a recruiter or a good X-and-O guy. I want guys who are involved in the business. There's a lot of down time, there's a lot of highs and lows. I didn't want a guy who said, 'I can get you a great player or I can draw up this great play that works.' I knew I would be the emotional guy anyway. "

Joked D'Alessio, "[Patsos] couldn't handle any Jimmys on the staff."

Patsos said that until he got married last year, Smith "was the most stable thing in my life the last five years and I'm grateful for that." Patsos said that Manning "is really organized and he's good for me because he's young and he can keep up with me because I have a lot of energy." D'Alessio has helped bolster recruiting "because he knows everyone in Baltimore and D.C." Patsos' staff also includes first-year director of operations Omari Israel, who played at Loyola and "has real passion."

Boylan said that he credits Patsos with making tough decisions that improved the staff, such as letting go two former Maryland players — Matt Kovarik and Terrell Stokes — and bringing in others who he thought would be an upgrade. Boylan said that the hiring of Smith "was huge. He has been a real rock for Jimmy."

Smith, who came to Baltimore and joined the coaching staff at Johns Hopkins in 2005 when his wife, Dr. Lorie Benton Smith, was hired at the hospital in its department of pediatric nephrology, had a one-question interview that Patsos said was "eight minutes long." Patsos asked Smith what he would be doing if he wasn't coaching college basketball.

"He said, 'I'm a movie freak. I'd probably be a movie critic.' I said, 'Welcome to Loyola,'" Patsos recalled Sunday night at Reitz Arena after the seedings were announced. "That was the interview."

Smith, who will be in charge of scouting the Buckeyes, said that Patsos gives his assistants a "lot of freedom" to call plays and defenses during games "to help us prepare to be head coaches one day and [he] is teaching us how to make those decisions in tough situations."

Junior forward Erik Etherly, the team's leading scorer, said that the assistant coaches act as a buffer when Patsos does go off on the officials or on the players.

"They're great," Etherly said. "He's a fiery guy, he's an emotional guy. You know that when you come here to play. Having the assistant coaches we have really help to contain what he's saying and express it in a manner that's more easily understood."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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