Loyola Marymount isn’t the runningest basketball team in the land by accident.
Head Lion tamer Paul Westhead trains them like runners, putting them through sprint competition-style warm-ups and exercises and timed track runs.
And a couple of times a year--for the sake of variety, mind you--it’s Dune time.
No, not the sci-fi novel or the movie. This is real life, and, as the ad says, it’s as real as it gets.
The Dune looms majestically, ominously, a mountain of loose sand rising about the length of a football field--give or take an end zone--at (literally) breathtaking steepness. A modest playground nestled in the tree section of Manhattan Beach, Sand Dune Park is hard to find even on a neighborhood map, but it’s burned indelibly in the minds of the Lion players.
One day last week, with the team in conditioning for the traditional Oct. 15 official start of practice, Westhead decided it was time to run The Dune.
The players gathered at the base of The Dune. The veterans knew what was to come and had much the same nervous energy as before a game. The newcomers eyed it warily. Mothers with young children playing on the swings and in the sandbox gawked at the collection of tall invaders and kept staring when they saw what followed: three mad dashes to the top, broken up by two trips up the adjoining 208-step stairway, all against the clock.
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Lions.
As the players loosened up and went through a stretching routine, Westhead--a veteran runner who has tackled The Dune himself--said: “The idea is, if we’re going to be the fastest team in the country we have to do” track-style training.
A dog strolled through the park with its tongue hanging out. Westhead noted: “That’s our opponents after the first eight minutes.”
Running The Dune, he said, “is more like a challenge than a penalty. They’ll talk about it for the next three or four weeks. In the NCAAs last year we spent a day on the track before the Wyoming game. Everybody knows now you weight-train during the season. We carry it one step further--if you do sprint-type training, you should do it through the season. Had we won against North Carolina we were gonna run the sand hill the next week.” Loyola, which had won 25 straight games, ended its season with a 26-point loss to the Tar Heels. Westhead added with a grin, “Maybe that’s why they lost.”
The players were ready for their first assault on the sand. The fast team--guards and small forwards--went first, joined by graduated guard Corey Gaines, in training for the NBA.
Westhead told them: “The first series, run up as fast as you can. Don’t worry about the second phase.” Assistant coach Bruce Woods waited at the top with a stopwatch.
Gaines took off quickly and never stopped, gaining the top in well under a minute. Junior guard Jeff Fryer, who used his hands for much of the climb, was close behind along with a newcomer from Sweden, husky forward Per Stumer, and junior guard Bo Kimble. Freshman guard Terrell Lowery quickly fell behind and became the focus of a mixture of teammates’ barbs and encouragement.
The big men went next. Forward Hank Gathers, sitting out with a sore leg, watched slender second-year forward Chris Knight take the lead and laughingly predicted, “Blade’s out in first. He’s gonna hit the wall quick.” The wall came about a third of the way up. Big sophomore Marcellus Lee, 6-10 and 225 pounds, also struggled.
By the second time up, even the ones who ran good times were low on gas, sucking for breath and leaning on jelly legs. Stumer had the fastest second climb, 1:06. His reaction: “What the . . . am I doing here?” Lee lost his legs and needed 3:34 to finish.
On the final climb, Fryer was first in 1:11. Stumer finished in 1:23, then did an imitation of “Rocky” dancing atop the Philadelphia Art Museum stairs. “That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said.
It was all over in 15 minutes. Gathers grinned at the sweating Lowery and said: “Terrell needs a T-shirt, ‘I Survived the Dune.’ ”
Lee had regained his legs and his sense of humor. “Thanks a lot, coach,” he told Westhead. “That was really helpful.”
Gaines said: “Let’s do two more.” Lowery gave him a dark look. “Let’s get the . . . out of here,” he replied. “I’m tired of looking at that hill.”
Westhead learned of The Dune from another Loyola coach. It perfectly fits his theory that for his style to be successful, the team must learn to keep playing through fatigue. “The thing (about The Dune) is, it doesn’t matter if you slow down. It doesn’t make it easier,” he said.
Westhead seemed pleased with the team’s workout. Nobody is sure of the exact length of The Dune, but he said it doesn’t matter. “It’s somewhere between 100 yards and 5,000. In the mind’s eye it’s closer to 5,000. It’s long enough to get your attention.”
Olympics Revisited: Cal State Dominguez Hills basketball Coach Dave Yanai said the Soviet Union’s upset of the U.S. in the Olympics points to the need for an established national basketball team.
“The international teams have really closed the gap in recent years,” he said. His suggestion: Name the U.S. Olympic coach and pick a nucleus of American undergraduate collegiate stars who would play together the summer before the Olympics, return to their schools in the fall, then reconvene as the Olympic team the next summer.
“That seems logical to me, at least to have a nucleus (of players) under the same coach,” Yanai said. “That way, when they return (for the Olympics) they’ll have played together for a summer, be intact and ready to play. They would have some continuity.”
Though the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona may be open to professionals, Yanai said he doubts that many NBA stars will want to give up their summers. “I think we’re good enough with our college kids,” he said. “We just need to get ‘em together early enough to form an identity.”
Yanai, who has international experience as an adviser to the Japanese National Team, also felt Olympic Coach John Thompson’s roster selection and style of play weren’t the optimum for international competition. “My worst fears, watching the U.S. team on its (pre-Olympic) tour, were I didn’t feel we had enough inside-outside balance. It hurt us. You have to be effective in handling a half-court offense. I felt that was an Achilles (heel) for us. Watching the (U.S.-Soviet) game I was emotionally upset at how we were attacking the defense because I didn’t think the Soviets were that good defensively.”
Riding a three-game winning streak after the weekend, the Cal State Dominguez Hills men’s soccer team had scored its last five goals on headers in the penalty area, three by Willie Ayala. Ayala continues to lead the CCAA in scoring with eight goals and one assist. The Toros have outscored opponents, 28-13 . . . Loyola’s Leslie Wohlford is ranked 18th in the nation in women’s volleyball kill average, 4.4 per game . . . Recent standouts in Loyola’s five-match win streak have included sophomore setter Loren Newman, averaging six assists in Loyola’s dual setter attack, and senior Seham Khalaf, who has been effective as both a hitter and setter.