As 16 players suited up for opening week basketball practices, Loyola Marymount Coach Paul Westhead, his staff and team approached the season with a higher sense of anticipation and expectation than perhaps at any other time in school history.
Around campus there is a carry-over of the euphoria of last season’s best-ever 28-4 record, even with the graduation of three key starters. And the Lions have enough talent back that every preseason poll picks them to repeat as West Coast Athletic Conference champion, and broadcaster/guru Dick Vitale tabs them for the Top 20.
This is a team that knows it has talent, and, for the first time in decades, knows it can win with its coach’s trademark style--an all-out assault on the scoreboard.
Despite the graduation of forwards Mike Yoest and Mark Armstrong and guard Corey Gaines, the Lions will unquestionably score at breakneck speed again.
Back in the fold are juniors Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, who both averaged more than 20 points per game last season, and guards Jeff Fryer and Enoch Simmons. Fryer, a junior, averaged 12.6 points and closed out Loyola’s NCAA playoff appearance with a 27-point game against North Carolina, canning 7 three-pointers. Simmons, the only senior, is a physical 6-4 player capable of manning point guard, shooting guard and small forward and hitting the three-pointer. He is also the team’s best athlete, having spent the summer playing baseball in the Oakland A’s minor leagues.
The questions are more pronounced inside:
- Who will replace the rebounding of Yoest and Armstrong? Armstrong graduated as the Lions’ second-leading career rebounder, and Yoest was among WCAC leaders as a junior and senior. Gathers, at 6-7, will be forced to handle much of the rebounding and post action again.
- Who will emerge at center? Senior John Veargason and junior Marcellus Lee, both 6-10, will be given the chance. Veargason has had injury problems in his Loyola career and is not a physical player inside. Lee, who has impressive power at 230 pounds, has played only a year of varsity ball and remains raw but could emerge. Also on hand are 6-8 sophomore Marcus Slater and 6-9 junior Jeff Roscoe, who both saw limited action last season, and 6-9 redshirt freshman Chris Knight.
Some of the answers may come from newcomers Per Stumer, a 21-year-old freshman and a member of the Swedish National Team, and John O’Connell, a freshman from Philadelphia who fits the Mike Yoest workhorse mold. Stumer, an impressive physical specimen at 6-7, 210 pounds, has a three-point shooting touch. However, Westhead hopes he can contribute immediately on the boards to take some of the load off Gathers. O’Connell, 6-6, got all-star recognition for his hustling style as a prep star in Philadelphia but may take some time to work into Westhead’s system.
The questions at guard mostly concern playing time. Joining Kimble, Fryer and Simmons are redshirt sophomore Tom Peabody, a former star at Mater Dei High, and freshman Terrell Lowery, a high-scoring Oakland high school all-star. Sophomore Terry Mister also returns. One can foresee times when Westhead might have a four-guard look, with Simmons and Kimble playing wing positions. Still, six is a crowd, and competition looks to be fierce there.
Two valley products also join the team as invited walk-ons--6-5 sophomores Steve Yoest (Mike’s brother) and Tom Morley, both out of Crespi High.
Loyola is coming off a season in which it led the nation in scoring at 110.3 points per game, and Westhead’s aim is to be the nation’s runningest team again.
“Everybody’s healthy, and everybody’s in pretty good shape,” Westhead said.
The Lions open the season Nov. 28 at home against Azusa Pacific. They begin defense of their WCAC title Jan. 11 and 12 with back-to-back games against San Francisco and Santa Clara. Key non-conference match-ups include games at UC Santa Barbara, home contests against Oregon State and Xavier of Ohio, two appearances at DePaul and a shoot-out at Oklahoma in mid-December that promises to top 300 combined points.
Several of Loyola’s games will be televised nationally, and the school is working on a package with a local cable network as well.
Heady stuff, indeed.
1988-89 Loyola Marymount Schedule:
Nov. 12--Intra-squad game (1 p.m.)
Nov. 19--Czech. Natl. Team (exhibition)
Nov. 28--Azusa Pacific
Dec. 1--at UC Santa Barbara (ESPN)
Dec. 7--Oregon State
Dec. 10--Athletes in Action (exhib.)
Dec. 17--at Oklahoma (ESPN)
Dec. 22-23--at Old Style Classic, Chicago
first round vs. Austin Peay
second round vs. DePaul or N.C. A & T
Dec. 30--at Nevada-Reno
Jan. 2--Wisconsin-Green Bay
Jan. 4--Xavier (Ohio)
Jan. 7--at U.S. International
Jan. 11--U. of San Francisco*
Jan. 12--Santa Clara*
Jan. 14--at DePaul (CBS-TV)
Jan. 20--at Gonzaga*
Jan. 21--at U. of Portland*
Jan. 25--at Pepperdine*
Jan. 29--Pepperdine* (USA Network)
Jan. 31--U.S. International
Feb. 3--St. Mary’s College*
Feb. 4--U. of San Diego*
Feb. 10--at San Diego*
Feb. 11--at St. Mary’s*
Feb. 24--at Santa Clara*
Feb. 25--at San Francisco*
March 4-5-6--Conference Tournament at San Francisco
*West Coast Athletic Conference games