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COLLEGES / ALAN DROOZ : If Center Petruska Leaves Team, He’ll Join a Loyola Trend

Fishermen who talk about the big one that got away have nothing on the Loyola Marymount basketball program.

The apparent loss of All-West Coast Conference center Richard Petruska, who was released from his scholarship last week, is the latest in a long line of big men who stopped by the Westchester campus only to leave after a brief stay.

Until the 6-foot-10 Petruska, who may transfer to UCLA but is still considering options and could re-enroll at Loyola, the Lions’ last all-conference center was Jim Haderlein, who played in the late 1960s.

Ten years ago, 6-foot-9, 220-pound Dennis Still, the younger brother of NFL football standout Art Still, spent a redshirt season at Loyola but never played a game. Ed Goorjian might still be the Lion coach if Still had lived up to expectations.

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Then came 6-foot-9 Dan Hornbuckle, a bruising player who lasted only 17 games. He was followed by 7-foot Larry Irwin, who--in TV commentator Dick Vitale’s words--looked good in airports.

Loyola recruited another 7-footer, Mike Lahm, who played little and transferred to Murray State. Two years ago, 6-foot-10 Brian Williams left the University of Maryland, visited Loyola and was reportedly set to enroll when he decided at the last minute to transfer to Arizona.

Now Petruska, the Czechoslovakian transfer who led the Lions in rebounding and was second in scoring, is apparently the latest player to join this trend.

Hence, the Lions have generally gotten by with forwards playing in the pivot, even while winning two of the past three WCC titles and making several appearances in postseason tournaments. Lion pivotmen in the 1980s ranged from 6-foot-6 Steve Haderlein to 6-foot-7 Hank Gathers, who led the nation in scoring and rebounding by combining the skills of a small forward and power forward.

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If Petruska doesn’t return to Loyola, the center position will probably be played by 6-foot-7 John O’Connell, 6-foot-8 Christian Scott, 6-foot-9 Chris Knight or, perhaps, 6-foot-7 freshman Wyking Jones--all forwards.

Of the players who left, Still may have been the most curious. A product of the Camden, N.J., schoolyards where he was a high school All-American, Still transferred to Loyola after two seasons at the University of South Alabama, where he averaged about 12 points and six rebounds.

An admittedly indifferent student, Still managed to stay in school most of his redshirt year, outplaying teammates in practice to the extent that Goorjian could hardly contain his wait-till-next-year proclamations.

But after the basketball season, Still ended up in the Philippines, where he played for a national team led by former Loyola and El Camino College Coach Ron Jacobs. He has remained a professional player on the international circuit for the last 10 years.

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Goorjian coached several scoring standouts--Jim McCloskey, Keith Smith, Forrest McKenzie and his son, Greg Goorjian, all of whom went on to win conference scoring titles--but the big men remained elusive.

And the few who were successfully recruited were paradoxes. Leonard Agee, a 6-foot-10 high school all-star from Hawthorne, spent the 1981-82 season at Loyola--his most notable game was giving up 48 points to national scoring leader Kevin Magee of UC Irvine--before dropping out.

Hornbuckle, a combative New York native who came to Goorjian by way of Glendale College, may have been the most colorful center in his brief Loyola tenure. Tabbed “the strongest man in America” by his community college coach, the 220-pound Hornbuckle was enthusiastic and something of an intimidator, but his skills were not polished.

Goorjian would playfully announce at coaches’ meetings and conference get-togethers that “if your guys push Hornbuckle I can’t be responsible for what happens next.” In one game an opposing center was flagrantly throwing elbows at Hornbuckle. Goorjian walked to the opposing team’s bench to warn the coach that if his player didn’t back off, retribution was coming--and this time it wasn’t said jokingly. Within minutes, Hornbuckle ran the opposing player into a Gersten Pavilion wall and was ejected.

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Unfortunately for Loyola, Hornbuckle broke a wrist just when he was starting to fit in and missed most of the conference season. He spent much of his convalescence banging (and breaking) casts against walls to see if his arm felt better. After the season he dropped out of school.

His replacement was the 7-foot-2 Irwin, the tallest player ever at Loyola. He averaged 20 points at Southwestern College in San Diego, but was less successful at the Division I level, averaging two points as two assists as a junior and playing only three minutes as a senior.

Another transfer, 6-foot-8 Vic Lazzaretti, had a series of injuries that kept him from finding a groove. He averaged six points as a junior and 10 as a senior, but started only 28 games over two seasons. His 1986-87 senior season produced the only losing record (12-16) in former coach Paul Westhead’s five seasons.

The next three seasons--the Hank Gathers-Bo Kimble teams--were Loyola’s glory years, But despite the unprecedented success, the only big men Westhead recruited were 6-foot-10 Marcellus Lee of Pomona and the rail-thin Knight of Los Angeles High.

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Lee, who fancied himself as a shooting guard, made his most dramatic impact in the 1990 NCAA tournament when he made the Lions’ last basket of the season--a three-point shot in the Western Regional final against soon-to-be national champion Nevada Las Vegas.

Knight, who started 14 games last season and fouled out six times, goes into his senior season still trying to prove he can play with the WCC’s big men. He is Loyola’s career leader in blocked shots.

Petruska, who had toured the United States with the Czech National Team in 1989, came to California last summer hoping to earn a college scholarship. UCLA was interested until Ed O’Bannon and Shon Tarver backed out of oral commitments with UNLV. They eventually enrolled at UCLA and the Bruins did not have a scholarship for Petruska.

Petruska was told by friends about Loyola and its high-scoring offense and he eventually enrolled there.

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Oh Give Me a Home . . .: Playing professional baseball has been an adjustment for Loyola basketball standout Terrell Lowery, but the real culture shock has been in adjusting to life in Butte, Mont., where he is playing in the Texas Ranger organization.

Lowery, an Oakland native, said he can’t wait to get home in two weeks.

Lowery said playing baseball every day “is pretty interesting. It’s an adjustment (but) I don’t mind it. Since I like baseball, it’s fine. It’s like working a job.

“I hate Montana. That’s been more of an adjustment--the social life is a lot different from Oakland and L.A. I’m ready to get out of here.”

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