As Loyola Marymount ran its pregame workout in Moraga, St. Mary’s students tried to bait the Lions.
As their target they chose a stocky player with an unruly haircut who had never been in their tiny gym before:
“Hey, Per . . . what kind of name is Per ?” They kept up the chant for most of warm-ups, with little noticeable effect.
For their edification, the name is Swedish, and so is the player, first-year man Per Stumer, who figures to become a well-known European export around the conference before his Loyola career is over.
Stumer (pronounced steamer ) is completing a solid freshman year for the Lions, starting every game and averaging 9.7 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 45% from the field and 80.8% from the foul line. He has shown a deft three-point touch and, at 6-6 and 220 pounds, the ability to play effectively inside as well.
“It’s been going pretty OK,” he says in perfect English in a husky voice. “There’s been a lot of adjustment--to the intensity, to how big the sport really is here. I think I’m doing OK now, but I can play better. I’m pretty happy for this being my first year.”
Lions Coach Paul Westhead, who didn’t know what to expect when Stumer arrived last summer, said: “I think he has had a terrific season. He has been very, very reliable. There isn’t anybody more reliable, and that’s unusual for a freshman.”
Stumer isn’t your average freshman. He’s nearly 22 years old, having completed his mandatory Swedish military service before coming to America. Because of his late start, the NCAA ruled that Stumer be given only three years of eligibility, so technically he’s a sophomore.
But to Westhead, he’s a freshman who is experiencing the ups and downs of a newcomer adjusting to a radically different style of play, as well as a new home.
His season may have been capsulized when he helped Loyola win the West Coast Athletic Conference Tournament in San Francisco. In the opening game against Gonzaga, he tied a tournament record with six three-pointers, finishing with 21 points and seven rebounds. The next day, against Pepperdine, he shot 1-for-9 and had five points and six rebounds. In the rugged championship game against Santa Clara he was scoreless but grabbed 10 rebounds.
“The whole system is new. I’m sure it’s taken him much of the season for his body to adjust to this wild and crazy approach to the game,” Westhead said.
Stumer said: “I heard a lot about (Loyola’s style of play) before I came. Still, you get amazed when you come over and try to be part of it. It’s so extreme, you just run and run and run. I saw the team play Wyoming and North Carolina (in last year’s NCAA tournament) on tape. Still, it’s not the same to see the tape and be there doing it.”
Stumer’s original Loyola connection was Brad Dean, a 1975 Loyola graduate and player who coaches Stumer’s club team in Sodentalje, Sweden, near Stockholm. Stumer’s success on the club level earned him a spot on the Swedish national team, and he began drawing the attention of American college scouts while traveling through Europe.
When Dean saw that Stumer was interested in playing at an American college, he suggested Loyola. Lions recruiting coordinator Judas Prada traveled to Sweden several times to scout him, then Stumer visited Loyola during the summer.
It worked out to everyone’s liking. “They liked me, and it was an ideal spot to come,” Stumer said. “I love the school. It’s perfect for a foreigner. It’s a small school, the classes are small, the people are friendly. That helps. I’m sure it would be harder at a place like UCLA.”
He hopes to continue playing for both Loyola and the Swedish national team. He has spent much of this season learning to adjust to the quicker American players as well as Westhead’s hectic style.
“I think the players in Europe get the fundamentals pretty well,” Stumer said. “It’s not that physical here as Europe--you use your upper body there because the players are not as skilled. I’m trying to adjust my style to fit in here.”
Indeed, Stumer often gets called for fouls for bumping with his upper body while keeping his hands clear. Stumer leads the team in fouls and has fouled out of eight games. But he says officiating is better here than in Europe. “The refs are a lot better than Europe, but I don’t know if they really like our style of play, so they call a lot of fouls. That’s just the way it’s gonna be. We have to work through that.”
Stumer had to work through Westhead’s grueling preseason training. He was surprised by the track-style training as well as the infamous sand-dune runs in Manhattan Beach.
“It was pretty amazing,” Stumer said. “I had played through the summer so I was in good shape. Still, it gets very tiring towards the end. But if you want to play that style, it’s a must.”
The Loyola players quickly discovered he was no Swedish meatball. Stumer’s 220 pounds are solid, and he was always among the top finishers in the workouts. During one of the sand-dune runs, a team manager confided, “Per Stumer is the best athlete I’ve ever seen.”
Stumer, who also played soccer and ice hockey as a youngster, was accepted by teammates without the impression he had to prove himself, and he has had some of his best games against top opponents--25 points and 13 rebounds against DePaul, 20 points against Oregon State, 16 points and 11 rebounds against Nevada-Reno and 10 points and 15 rebounds against Santa Clara. He can often be found before practice trying to match trick shots with star center Hank Gathers.
Stumer has to get most of his points through hustle and second efforts and still passes up open shots, sometimes surprising teammates with no-look passes. “He doesn’t get a lot of plays called,” Westhead said. “Sometimes it frustrates me when he gets open and hesitates (to shoot).”
“Some old habits you have to work away,” Stumer explains.
“People have big expectations when you come in, but you’ve got to play through that. I wanted to show I could play, but you always feel a little bit of pressure when you come from another team. (The other players) took good care of me. To play and practice with Gathers and Jeff Fryer and Bo Kimble helps you. It makes your game rise to be with these great players.”
Stumer and the Lions now focus on the NCAA Tournament, which has gotten so big, he said, that it is followed in parts of Europe, though not by “the man on the street in Sweden.”
As has been his pattern, Stumer will do whatever is needed, and may even look to shoot.
After his shooting spree against Gonzaga--he was seven for 10 overall--Stumer said, “I felt open. My man was trying to play defense on Fryer and Kimble and leaving me open. When I get it going early, I feel more comfortable.”
“You see,” Westhead said with a smile, “he’s learning our system.”