Strong Hoops Well Lived: NCAA Appearance Sets Fans on Fire

Men’s basketball team’s trip to the NCAA Tournament deepens Greyhounds pride

By Magazine Staff  |  Photos by Dave Denoma, Larry French, and Nick Alexopulos, ′03

Every fall Mike Krawczyk, ′72, and his buddies plan a trip to the NCAA Tournament. In October when they were deciding where to buy tickets, they settled on Pittsburgh. “I said to my wife, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if Loyola were there?’” said Krawczyk, a former Greyhounds basketball player.

As it turned out Loyola was there, in the heart of Pittsburgh, in the March Madness frenzy, taking on Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament.

And, yes, it was great—and then some. It was fantastic. It was exhilarating. The team’s tournament appearance ignited the Evergreen campus and, thanks partly to the power of social media, the Loyola community around the nation and the world. Hundreds of alumni, parents, students, trustees, staff, faculty, and coaches of other Greyhounds teams rearranged their lives to travel to the Steel City to cheer on the team in one of the greatest moments in Loyola athletic history.

It was the first time in 18 years—and only the second time ever—the Greyhounds had made the trip to the NCAA Tournament. Even people with no Evergreen connection found themselves craving more details about a passionate coach who took his 15-seed team to the Andy Warhol Museum just hours before they took the national stage at the CONSOL Energy Center. During the week of the game, Coach Jimmy Patsos gave more than 30 media interviews—and as he talked about showing Love Story to his team after a loss and taking them to the Guggenheim Museum, the reporters kept coming back for more.

Still, the story was about more than just Patsos—the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Coach of the Year—and an extraordinary team, which marked its first 20-win season since 1948-1949 on its way to setting a school Division I record with 24 wins, but also of a triumphant run that answered decades of hopes and dreams of an athletic program, a university, and generations of Greyhounds players and fans.

BUSLOADS OF GREYHOUNDS

Three busloads of lucky students who won the University’s ticket lottery arrived just before the game began and headed back to campus mere moments after the players left the court. “We were all hyped up,” said Claire Cummings, ′14, of Jefferson Township, Pa., who cheered with the other students when they saw the Pittsburgh skyline. “To see our boys playing on top of that (NCAA Tournament) logo and to think we made it into March Madness, it was just unbelievable.”

Led by an energized mascot and 12 cheerleaders with silver pom poms and smiles that lasted long past the Greyhounds’ fleeting lead over the Buckeyes, the Loyola fans made their presence known. “Let’s go, Greyhounds!” reverberated through the arena, as the Duquesne University Pep Band—dressed in Loyola SuperFans shirts—played and cheered with as much fervor as true Loyola fans.

“We got 650 tickets for the school and I think we could have used a thousand,” Jim Paquette, assistant vice president and director of athletics, told a crowd of fans at a pregame party at Pittsburgh’s Omni William Penn Hotel.

NO MISTAKES ALLOWED

Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., Loyola’s president, was riding the hotel elevator to the party when he fell into conversation about the University with another hotel guest.

“Loyola Marymount?” the man asked.

“You’ll never make that mistake again,” Fr. Linnane replied.

One mistake the NCAA merchandisers won’t make again is printing the Loyola shirts they’re selling in the wrong colors. Teddi Burns, ′86, associate director of athletics, bought one of the shirts—featuring Loyola’s colors as yellow and green—before the salespeople had to pull and reprint all the shirts in green and grey overnight.

Burns also traveled with the men’s basketball team in 1994 when the Greyhounds played in the NCAA Tournament in Sacramento. This year brought back memories of 1994—when both the men’s and women’s teams made it to the NCAA Tournament—as the team took the MAAC Championship and earned its NCAA berth. “We won the MAAC Tournament, and that’s what we needed to do,” said Burns, the day after the Greyhounds lost to Ohio State. “Anything else is the icing on the cake.”

NO PLACE TOO FAR

That icing attracted alumni not just from Baltimore, but from Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey—and even Alabama and Georgia.

Ask J.J. Gartland, ′01, his sister, Jill, ′02, M.S. ′04, and their father, Jim, when they decided they were going to the NCAA Tournament game. “It was about 9:30 on a Monday night in Springfield,” said Jill, referring to the night they watched the Greyhounds defeat Fairfield University in Springfield, Mass., to win the MAAC Tournament.

J.J., a chief investment officer for Neuberger Berman, husband of Amanda Wesley Gartland, ′01, and resident of Allendale, N.J., sends weekly emails updating his friends on the Greyhounds team. “J.J. is the guy that keeps Loyola basketball alive for our friends,” said Mike Buzzard, ′01, who flew in from Atlanta to see the game with the Gartlands and other classmates.

They had plenty of Greyhounds yelling with them from the stands.

WHO’S WHO AT THE GAME

There was Bobby Fletcher, ′03, who came from Washington, D.C., and admitted he hadn’t put Loyola in his NCAA bracket. “Money was involved,” said Fletcher, with a laugh before the game. “I hope I’m wrong.” Fletcher met his Philadelphia friend Adam McCabe, ′06. “Basketball, in general, outside the World Cup, it’s just the best tournament in sports. It’s like pro sports and we’re here.”

There was Ed Hanway, ′99, who drives to Baltimore from Newtown Square, Pa. to watch games during the regular season with his four children. For this game, he met three of his classmates—Kevin Chesterton, ′99, from Baltimore, and Long Islanders Doug Byrne, ′99, and John Coppola, ′99. They started their freshman year at Loyola the fall after the Greyhounds’ last NCAA Tournament trip, and they had hoped to see another one as students. “We’ve been waiting 17 years for this,” said Byrne.

There was Bill Devaney, ′67, who brought his son Brian from Baltimore. A Greyhounds basketball player back when there were only two divisions, Devaney has had season tickets since 1968. When the Greyhounds won the MAAC Championship, he called Brian and said, “Pack your bags!”

There were three other Greyhounds coaches—Jen Adams, head women’s lacrosse coach, Joe Logan, ′96, head women’s basketball coach, and Brian Loeffler, ′91, head swimming and diving coach, and numerous others from the athletic department there to support Patsos and the team.

There was Christine Aspiotes, ′10, who is earning her master’s in biology at Pittsburgh’s Chatham University. “I’m normally a Pitt fan, but this year they didn’t make it, and my Greyhounds did,” she said. When she found out the team would be playing in her hometown, she just had to be there to see her first Greyhounds game since graduation.

There were Patsos’ brother, Chris, and his brother-in-law, George Stanley, niece, and nephew who came to the game—and laughed when they saw Jimmy’s face on cookies at the pregame party, courtesy of Patsos’ wife, Michele.

There was Steven “Nino” Collins, ′80, who organizes Loyola basketball reunions and helped coordinate trips to the Burgh. When Frank Falcone, ′79, told Collins he was going to drive from Cherry Hill, N.J., to Baltimore to catch a ride, Collins told him he could do better. He put him in touch with a group traveling in from Philadelphia.

There were Blanchard Hurd, ′00, of Woodlawn, Md., and Damien Jenifer, ′02, of Ellicott City, Md., who are both Greyhounds basketball alumni who have been following the team. “Nobody would let me not follow it,” said Hurd, who said his phone was ringing constantly as friends called to talk Loyola basketball. Jenifer coached guard Tyler Hubbard, ′15, and forward Shane Walker, ′12, at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md., and encouraged them to attend Loyola. The NCAA Tournament bid didn’t surprise Jenifer. “I knew it was coming. I just didn’t know when,” he said. “I know how hard it is to get here. For the program, for the school, obviously the exposure is great. For the players, it’s an experience for the rest of your life.”

CHEERS FROM AFAR
Who else was rooting for the Greyhounds? There were 60 fans at an alumni game watch party in Philadelphia, 225 at one in Manhattan, 100 at another in Baltimore, 20 at the Washington, D.C., gathering, and 200 students at a campus party in McGuire Hall. And there were thousands of other fans watching all over the country as the Greyhounds lost to Ohio State, the nation’s No. 7 team, 78-59.


After the game, the Loyola fans stood together to applaud their team, and before they left the court, the players also paused—in a spontaneous and graceful moment—to clap for their fans. In the locker room Fr. Linnane addressed the team, telling them how proud he and the University community were of the players—many of whom were in, or close to, tears.

The day after the game, a tired but smiling team returned to campus to a heroes’ welcome. Students brought homemade signs cheering for the players, a bagpiper played, and the crowd screamed with joy as a grinning Patsos and his players stepped off the bus.

A loss is a loss. And a win would have been oh-so-sweet. But just watching your team play in a long-awaited NCAA Tournament game is exhilarating, especially when most of the team will return next year. And the fans? Oh, they will definitely be back.

NEW BEGINNING
As the team arrived on campus the day after the game, the students who had barely slept on their trip back from Pittsburgh were glowing with memories of the tournament.

“To be able to be there at all was awesome,” said Cummings, the sophomore who was so thrilled to snag a ticket. She was bubbling over with descriptions of all the Loyola green in the arena, the energy of the students, how she met a graduate at the game who told her his friend had designed the SuperFans shirt, how she had taken so many photos. She was full of pride for her team, her fellow students, her university. And she would always remember the excitement of that night in Pittsburgh when her Greyhounds took the court.

“We sprinted in cheering,” she said, “and we left cheering even louder.”

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