A new coach for a new season in a new league

G.G. Smith looks ahead to first season leading men's basketball

By Gary Lambrecht  |  Photos by Howard Korn

Tubby Smith, one of college basketball’s more accomplished active coaches, recalled how his oldest son, G.G., stood out long ago on the playing field with his youth soccer team. It went beyond G.G.’s obvious physical ability. It was more about the way the boy studied opponents and teammates and the spaces around him.

“When everybody else was gravitating toward the ball the way that most young kids do, G.G. was on the side away from the crowd, looking at angles and ways he could get in the best position to get the ball,” Tubby Smith recalled. “He had something you really couldn’t teach. He’s always been one of the smartest kids I’ve ever been around.”

That kid is now 36. Behind G.G. Smith are the days he commanded the point guard position in the late ’90s at the University of Georgia, where he played for two seasons under his father. Behind him are the dues he paid over 13 seasons as an assistant at five collegiate basketball stops, including the past six seasons at Loyola.

As the 20th head coach in Loyola University Maryland basketball history, Smith is studying new angles once again. After replacing former head coach Jimmy Patsos, who over nine years transformed the Greyhounds from a one-win team to a program that produced 47 victories over the past two seasons and made the school’s second Division I appearance in the NCAA tournament in 2012, Smith is in the driver’s seat for the first time in his coaching life.

“Working with Jimmy and taking on the responsibilities he gave me—recruiting, scouting, academics, coaching on the floor—helped me out tremendously,” Smith said. “Jimmy did a great job with this program, and it’s been great to a part of it for the past six years. Now, we’ve got to figure out how to reinvent ourselves.”

The reinvention begins in a new home for the Greyhounds, who joined the Patriot League officially on July 1, following a longtime association with the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC).

Unlike the MAAC, where Loyola was the southern-most member in a league dominated by New York schools, the Greyhounds will establish more regional rivalries in the Patriot League with schools such as American and Navy.

The Patriot League’s stringent academic standards also will present another challenge, as Smith and his staff target recruits. The fact that Patriot members Lehigh and Bucknell had players (Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum and the Bisons’ Mike Muscala) drafted by the NBA in June should help Loyola’s cause.

“We definitely want to use that [NBA angle on the recruiting trail] to our advantage. With the Patriot League’s academic index, our recruiting philosophy is going to change, but not too much. We’re used to getting great students [at Loyola],” Smith said. “I think the Patriot League will be a really good fit for us. I think we’ll get the types of athletes we need to play the up-tempo style we want to play, and the heart and soul of our team will put us in a good position this year.”

Senior guard Dylon Cormier, who is coming off of his best season with the Greyhounds and made the All-MAAC first team last spring, is Loyola’s leader and should figure prominently in the League’s Player of the Year discussion. Junior point guard R.J. Williams and senior forward Jordan Latham will be key contributors.

Cormier said he was relieved Smith was chosen as the successor to Patsos.

“I didn’t want to spend my senior year with someone I had to get to know,” Cormier said. “G.G is not a big talker, but we’ve got a great relationship. He doesn’t yell at us. He tells us how it is. Do things his way and don’t lollygag. He is a really good X’s and O’s guy. He makes the game easier for me. He’s been around basketball his whole life.”

Basketball has run in the Smith family for decades. Tubby Smith, 62, has been a collegiate coach since 1979 and has been a head coach since 1991. Smith, who was hired last spring to lead Texas Tech, has guided Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, and Minnesota to NCAA tournaments, and won a national championship at Kentucky in 1998. G.G.’s younger brothers Saul and Brian also have been involved in coaching.

G.G. said his time at Georgia, where he graduated in 1999 as the school’s all-time leader in games played (129), wins in one season (24), and three-pointers made in a game (nine), sowed the seeds for his career path. And those first two years playing under Tubby brought out the analytical competitor his father recognized in G.G. as a youngster.

“When you’re a coach’s son and you make a mistake, you really catch heat at times,” G.G. said. “Playing point guard is like playing quarterback. You are an extension of the coach. Playing for [Tubby] helped me to learn how to handle the pressure that was on me.”

“G.G. is the perfect guy to lead this group,” said Patsos, now the head coach at Siena. “I expect them to contend for a Patriot League title right away.”

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