Swallowed up in the noise and hype of big-time college basketball in our big-time sports metropolis is a delightful gem with a simply perfect name.
Meet Max Good.
He is the basketball coach at Loyola Marymount. If you have been paying attention to the early-season fortunes of Los Angeles-area Division I basketball teams, you might be inclined, at least at the moment, to rank LMU the region's No. 1.
En route to their current 4-2 record, they have beaten two top-25 teams. They took out UCLA when the Bruins were No. 17, and they spoiled the climb to No. 23 by the unbeaten St. Louis Billikens — that's school first appearance in the national rankings since 1993 — with a convincing 75-68 victory Tuesday night.
For a school such as LMU, in a place such as Los Angeles, those two victories and a dime will get you a cup of coffee.
"Hey, I understand about living in the shadow," says Good. "I coached at Eastern Kentucky, 30 miles away from Kentucky. In Kentucky, there is nothing else. No Super Bowls, no U.S. Open golf. Just Kentucky basketball."
Good is 70 years old. He is in his fourth year as coach at the Jesuit school with the high academic standards and the sleepy, pretty campus overlooking Marina del Rey. He took over three games into the 2008-09 season when his longtime friend and head coach, Bill Bayno, came apart from the stress.
"We were playing Iowa State, and he looked awful," Good said. "I walked up to him before the game. He had his head in his hands. I tapped him on the shoulder and told him it would be OK, that we'd win. I looked at him and saw the indentations in his head and face from where his fingers had dug in."
Bayno is fine now and working as an assistant coach with the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves. Good took over the mess, went 3-25 his first season, rebounded to 18-16 in his second season, which included wins over USC, Notre Dame and Gonzaga, and then, by his own admission, stunk out the place last season with an 11-21 record.
In that 11-21, LMU lost 10 games by a total of 34 points — two of the losses were in double overtime. Injuries to six of the team's top eight players resulted in their sitting out a total of 66 games over the course of the season. For most coaches, that would end the summary.
"Max Good did a terrible job," he says. "I will go to my grave disliking myself for last season."
He says he tried too hard, yelled too much at his players during games and mismanaged the injuries.
But that's gone, or, as Good says, "Nothing gets beat quicker than excuses." He also says, "You're only as good as your next game, not your last one."
As a matter of fact, Good says lots of refreshing and charming things. Presumably, somebody at LMU is keeping track and making a list of Max-isms. Such as:
• "There has never been a good team with bad players."
"I spent 20 years in Maine and 20 in Kentucky. I have reason not to be normal."
"I grew up in Maine and my father was a Herbert Hoover Republican and my Mother a John F. Kennedy Democrat. Somehow, they still had me."
"A coach who listens to fans will soon be sitting with them."
"I hate days off. Players need days off. I don't need them. In the off-season, I hate weekends."
"All basketball coaches are two good players from being on a pedestal and two bad ones from being fired."
"Fans who spend hours during games yelling at the coach are the same ones who can't find their car in the parking lot."
He won't say it, but his coaching job this season is even more impressive in that he was able to outmaneuver the Billikens' Rick Majerus while playing without two of his best players, Drew Viney and Ashley Hamilton. Both starters, they missed the game because of injuries.
Still, he got a 22-point performance from 6-foot-5 senior LaRon Armstead, including 10 of 10 from the free-throw line, and 17 points from 5-10 point sophomore guard Anthony Ireland, who drove through the Billikens' vaunted defense time after time and scored under pressure.
"Somebody told me that when Ireland was in seventh grade," Good says, "he weighed 115 pounds and would go out and take on the older, big guys. I think that helped his confidence."
While the bigger guys of Los Angeles will be playing in the brighter lights this weekend, LMU will host a four-team tournament that includes Columbia, North Texas and Riverside NAIA school La Sierra. It is called the Doubletree Los Angeles Westside Centennial Classic. The "Centennial" part is legitimate, since it celebrates LMU's 100th anniversary. The "Classic" part, well …
Still, LMU's Lions, suddenly the little engine that could, might be worth a look. There always seem to be plenty of seats in the bandbox they play in, also known as Gersten Pavilion. Sadly, its claim to fame is as the place where Hank Gathers collapsed and died in 1990.
As the season goes on, and LMU takes on its West Coast Conference schedule, the Lions are likely to remain the Southland's best-kept college basketball secret. That's the way it is. There are a million stories in the naked city, and, barring unprecedented events, Loyola Marymount basketball is not one of the big ones.
Still, for a few days here in the early season, the little Lions, coached by a man whose name describes the quality of his team, could proudly wave their index fingers over the L.A. basketball scene and not get too much argument.