Nov. 12, 2003
BALTIMORE, MD - The unofficial start to Loyola's men's basketball season is this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. when the Greyhounds play G.T. Express in an exhibition contest. Although the regular season tips off on Friday, November 21st at the Battle of Baltimore, Thursday's exhibition at Reitz Arena will offer a taste of what's to come on the hardwood in 2003-04.
With three of his top five scorers back and a strong recruiting class, Head Coach Scott Hicks is looking forward to a new basketball season. A healthy, athletic and even deep squad will allow Hicks an opportunity to take advantage of his players' natural positions, something he wasn't able to do during last season's injury-plagued campaign.
"Last season, injuries to [Sean] Corrigan, [Irakli] Nijiradze and [Linton] Hinds forced [Jim] Chivers to the center position and [Charlie] Bell to the point guard position," says Hicks. "This season a healthy Corrigan, Nijiradze and Hinds will allow Chivers to play at power forward and allow Bell to play shooting guard."
The Greyhounds return eight players off of last season's roster and welcome back Sean Corrigan, who sat out with a medical redshirt. The addition of four talented freshmen will also make life easier for lone senior Lindbergh Chatman, who will lead Loyola into its 93rd season of intercollegiate basketball.
"The MAAC will be very competitive from top to bottom and will feature many outstanding senior players," says Hicks. "Our non-conference and MAAC schedule will be excellent and we are very excited about all the challenges that come with a new season."
A total of eight freshmen and sophomores (four of each) make up Loyola's 13-man roster. There's no way around it - the Greyhounds will be young in 2003-04. The talent, however, is in place and success will largely depend on how fast this team can gel.
Here's a closer look, position-by-position, at what's in store for Loyola basketball in the upcoming season.
The point guard position in 2002-03 was mostly covered by committee. Linton Hinds, Charlie Bell and Ryan Dickey shared the duties at point with injuries determining who would play each game.
This season, the addition of Shane James and Jamaal Dixon, two talented freshman guards, have Coach Hicks smiling. James is a 6-3 guard from Milliken Mills High School in Canada. He averaged 27 points per game and shot 49 percent from three-point range in high school and posted 18 points, six rebounds and four assists per game for the Canadian National Junior Team last summer.
Dixon, a 6-2 point guard out of Braintree, Mass., was a four-year starter at Thayer Academy, where he earned all-state honors and was named an honorable mention All-America.
"Both Shane [James] and Jamaal [Dixon] are very talented," says Hicks. "Shane has great natural offensive instincts. He has the ability to put points on the board, and is an extremely gifted playmaker. Dixon is quick and explosive, and will use his athletic ability to get to the basket."
Coach Hicks is looking for big things from his freshmen, but also hopes that sophomore Linton Hinds will use the experience he gained at the point guard position last season. He has impressed the coaches with his increased strength and improved shooting and will battle for minutes at the point this year.
Hicks has versatile perimeter players and will look for Bobby Bossman, Charlie Bell and Kenny Burr to provide depth at the shooting guard position. Bossman, a 6-6 sophomore, had a solid freshman year, averaging 8.1 points per game while leading the team with 26 steals. Coach Hicks expects Bossman to get more minutes at shooting guard this season and will depend on both him and Bell to put up offensive numbers.
Bossman started 12 games, scored in double figures nine times and posted a season-high 21 points at Canisius. He also connected on five three-pointers, had two blocks and a steal while totaling 19 points against Central Connecticut, a game in which he played a career-high 38 minutes.
Bell, another sophomore guard, also started 12 games last season. He went for double figures five times and will be expected to surpass that with his new position off the ball. Three of his five double-figure nights came consecutively when he scored 10 points versus Rider, 15 points at Siena and then 11 points versus Canisius.
The 'Hounds will get additional help from Burr, a 6-5, l95-pound freshman shooting guard from South Carolina. Burr was an all-state performer and MVP at Lexington, where his team won a state championship and three regional titles.
Allen, one of the most talented small forwards in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, is the team's leading returning scorer and rebounder from last season. He averaged seven boards, 8.4 points per game and had five double-doubles for the Greyhounds in 2002-03. His season-high 21 points versus Central Connecticut highlighted the year while a 16-point, seven-rebound performance against the University of Maryland caught everyone's attention.
"He looked like the best player on the floor when we played Maryland," says Hicks. "Bernard [Allen] has tremendous ability and we'll need him to be a consistent force this season."
Meanwhile, Alujevic, a 6-7 sophomore, may be the most improved player on the team."Josko has worked very hard during the offseason," says Hicks. "He is in great condition, is much stronger and is playing with great confidence in the preseason."Chatman, a fifth-year senior, will be asked to provide leadership and anchor the defense for this year's team.
"Lindbergh is one of our best defensive players," says Hicks. "His strength and athletic ability really allows him to defend both guards and forwards."
At power forward, the Greyhounds will utilize Jim Chivers and Mike Tuck while giving Allen an opportunity to play the position from time to time.
Chivers, a 6-8 junior, has shown solid progress as a player at Loyola. The last three games of 2002-03 showed his promising potential. Against Iona, he registered a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes. He came back with seven points and eight rebounds in the regular season finale versus Fairfield and then scored six points and pulled down seven rebounds in the first round of the MAAC Championship Tournament at Sovereign Bank Arena.
"Jim [Chivers] has gained a lot of confidence after his success this past summer on a college all-star team that toured Canada," notes Hicks. "On this tour, he averaged a double-double and looks ready to take on a much bigger role this year."
With Chivers and Allen supplying offense, Hicks will look to Tuck, a 6-7, 215-pound freshman from Canada, for added depth. Tuck averaged 12 points per game his senior season at Maine Central Institute and has really impressed the coaching staff with his great work ethic, athleticism and versatility.
The center position will be improved this season with two viable options for Hicks. Both Sean Corrigan, and sophomore Irakli Nijaradze are healthy, skilled and more experienced going into the 2003-04 season. Both centers are very good shooters who have the ability to score from inside and outside.
"It usually takes big men a little longer to make the adjustment to the physical nature of Division I college basketball," says Hicks. "Both Sean [Corrigan] and Irakli [Nijaradze] are now third-year players and should benefit from their added strength and experience."
Corrigan returns as a sophomore in eligibility and has had a productive offseason. He played in the Empire State Games over the summer and led his team to a gold medal. His freshman season at Loyola (2001-02), Corrigan scored 10 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in 14 games played. At 6-11, he'll be the tallest Greyhound on the floor and should see a lot of action in the low post.
Nijaradze's numbers last season showed that he has the ability to produce on the offensive side. He opened last season with a 10-point performance against Morgan State, however, a subsequent injury forced him to miss six weeks and 10 games of the season. He returned for the last game and posted nine points and three rebounds in 16 minutes versus Iona.
"I was encouraged with his performance against Iona," says Hicks. "Irakli [Nijaradze] is a good shooter and we'll look to use his experience this year."
The Greyhounds have put together a solid mid-major schedule with local and regional match-ups and coupled that with a grueling MAAC schedule for this season. Once again the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference will be very strong. Manhattan, last season's champion, looks to be the preseason favorite with the return of last year's league MVP Luis Flores. The Jaspers were one of three MAAC schools to participate in the NCAA postseason a year ago with both Siena and Fairfield playing in the NIT.
The season gets under way on Nov. 21 with the Battle of Baltimore. The 'Hounds face UMBC on live television and play either Coppin State or host Towson on Saturday the 22nd. Non-conference road games at Delaware, Duquesne, Mount Saint Mary's and Navy will challenge Loyola while the non-conference home slate features a pair of very strong teams. Perennial Ivy champion Princeton visits Reitz Arena on December 29 and Northeast Conference power Central Connecticut State comes to town on January 5.
The 2004 MAAC Championships will take place on March 5-8 at the Pepsi Arena in Albany, N.Y. The Greyhounds hope to be clicking on all cylinders by then.
Loyola will be young overall, and with only one senior to lead the way; it could take some time for the team to develop chemistry.
"Every season you find a team that develops great chemistry and achieves great things," says Hicks. "Only two seasons ago, two teams from the MAAC (Marist and Rider respectively) were picked fifth and seventh in the preseason and ended the year tied for first overall."
Coach Hicks has some weapons in his arsenal and as his players become more comfortable with their new roles, Loyola could be a dangerous squad to face come March.
James, Dixon and Hinds will run the point, Bossman, Bell and Burr will share time at shooting guard. The small forwards will be Allen, Alujevic and Chatman while Chivers and Tuck will handle the power forward duties. At center, Corrigan and Nijaradze complete Coach Hicks' lineup.
It's too early to tell how this lineup will gel or how it will look come tournament time. One thing, however, is for sure - the Greyhounds will be a much improved team in 2003-04.