The Loyola Greyhounds' Long Trip to the NCAA Tournament

Mike SalvatoreCorrespondent IIIMarch 7, 2012

It’s been over 24 hours, and I’m still in a state of disbelief. The Loyola Greyhounds—my Loyola Greyhounds—are going to the NCAA Tournament.

This is something I never thought I would ever see. Jimmy Patsos had the unenviable task of inheriting a program in disarray. Patsos arrived on the scene in 2004, one season after the Greyhound program finished an embarrassing 1-27.

The basketball team had been so bad that from 1999 to 2005 they only managed to win 29 game, which is only five more than this year’s club has won so far.

As fate would have it, 2004 was my freshman year at Loyola University Maryland College, and I had heard all the horror stories about the basketball team and overall lack of enthusiasm for the program. Believe me when I tell you, there was something lacking in those early days.

Patsos would try mightily to instill enthusiasm in a stagnant fan base that was apathetic at best. Hell, most time any of us went to a game during that 2004 season was because we had some time to kill on a Saturday afternoon.

Perhaps the biggest attempt was when Patsos had former Notre Dame head coach and current ESPN college basketball analyst Digger Phelps address the fan base early in his first season as head coach. Phelps did his best to get a rise out of us, going so far as to proclaim Loyola as the future “Gonzaga of the East.” Sure, we were all excited—we were freshman, we didn’t know any better.

The first season was tough, no doubt, but there was a certain grittiness about the team under Patsos. The team only won six games that first season, but Charlie Bell lead a much more spirited and focused group on the court.

The program took a gigantic step forward during the 2005 – 2006 season thanks to the diminutive sparkplug, Andre Collins. Collins was a Maryland transfer and immediately became one of the most successful players in school history. He finished his one year at Loyola as the nation’s third leading scorer as well as leading Loyola to its first winning record in years.

Gerald Brown would become another high-profile transfer to become the man for the Greyhounds. Easily one of the most well rounded players on the team, Brown teamed with Mo Sullivan and led the team to two hugely successful seasons, including a dramatic and heartbreaking run in the MAAC Tournament in 2008, which ended with a loss to eventual champ and NCAA Tournament darling Sienna.

Many thought that the 2007-2008 season would be a building block for future Loyola teams, yet it never happened. Three ho-hum seasons with early exits in the MAAC Tournament lead to speculation that Patsos might be on the hot seat.

Fortunately, the team got off to a quick start and never looked back this season. Shane Howard, Erik Etherly and Dylon Cormier led a well balance squad that took the MAAC by storm this season. Loyola finished with the most wins in the school’s history since they transitioned to a Division I school, and were able to breeze through the MAAC Tournament until they played Fairfield in the finals.

Sure, the game was sloppy, and it wasn’t what one would call fundamentally sound. But just as Patsos’s team proved back in 2004, they would not be afraid to get down and dirty to get a win.

Everything came full circle on Monday night, when years of effort and sacrifice finally paid off. All the hard work of Charlie Bell, Andre Collins and Gerald Brown was rewarded when Loyola did the unthinkable and won the MAAC.

Gonzaga of the East?

Nah. I prefer Loyola of the East.