While the media circus that was the Miami Heat played out 1,000 miles away, Loyola guard Dylon Cormier was orchestrating his own version of the Big Three, Baltimore style.
First Cormier helped persuade R.J. Williams, a speedy 5-foot-8 St. Frances guard, to join him at Loyola. Then that duo convinced big man Jordan Latham — a former standout at City who was looking to transfer from Xavier — to return home. Not only do Cormier and his Charm City crew give coach Jimmy Patsos' squad a particularly local flavor, they also represent the Greyhounds' best opportunity to earn their first postseason berth in almost two decades.
"I told them we can run this city and run this league," said Cormier, a Cardinal Gibbons graduate. "With a Baltimore team together we could do big things. No one will stop us."
This summer the trio has been sharpening their skills at the Gordon Institute Baltimore Summer League — which will crown its champion Sunday — at Loyola's Reitz Arena. Started last year by Thayne Gould, a marketing manager at T. Rowe Price, Baltimore's only NCAA sanctioned summer league is attracting some of the city's top talents. Last year Lake Clifton standout Cleveland Melvin — the Big East Rookie of the Year at DePaul — highlighted the competition, and this summer Cormier, Williams and Latham join a bevy of their teammates who are also participating in the league.
The Loyola players are divided onto several teams due to an NCAA rule stating that no more than three Division I players can play on the same squad in a summer league. When winter rolls around, however, Williams and Latham will join a Loyola roster brimming with promise — the Greyhounds return six of their top seven scorers from the 2010-2011 campaign. Perhaps the largest hole will be left by four-year starter Brian Rudolph, a former Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Co-Rookie of the Year who averaged a team-high 30 minutes last season. But Williams — a four-year starter himself at St. Frances — is hoping he can ease the transition.
"[Williams] is one of the fastest guys I've seen with the ball, one of the best defenders and he's an athlete, too," Cormier said. "He's a freak of nature, he's electrifying. I love to watch him."
During a recent summer league game, Williams showed why he was so highly regarded at St. Frances. The 2010-2011 Baltimore Catholic League Co-Player of the Year displayed spectacular speed, threading the needle and getting to the hoop with ease. His crafty passes and ankle-breaking jukes drew "oohs" and "aahs" from the crowd at Reitz Arena. Williams also showed good range, draining five 3s and finishing with 25 points in a 111-75 win.
"In high school I wasn't known for scoring, but I can score," Williams said. "Now I'm just trying to put everything together and work on my game. I can pass, but everybody wants to see me do more."
Williams joins a deep group of guards — led by Cormier and Robert Olson — who will compete for time in Loyola's guard-heavy lineup. Williams and Cormier are natural point guards, but coaches say the two may even share the court at times.
"We're in a guard league. You've got to have good guards to win this league," Patsos said. "When [Cormier and Williams] are playing together you'll have a tough, defensive minded backcourt. Fast offensively, but they can lock guys up and they bring that Baltimore toughness."
Latham will sit out this year because of NCAA transfer rules. Instead he'll have one year to serve as the understudy to senior Shane Walker, a former Maryland player.
While Williams, Latham and Cormier are the three most recent Baltimore products to play at Loyola, Patsos credits Gerald Brown (Douglass) for getting the ball rolling when he played for the Greyhounds from 2006-2008 after starting his college career at Providence.
"Gerald Brown was the first Baltimore kid that came home. I appreciate that," Patsos said. "He went back and tells everybody how great the school was. Then things got easier in the city. I'll always be grateful for Gerald."
And the Baltimore connection even extends into Loyola's 2012 recruiting, as Milford Mill star Tevin Hanner committed to Loyola in March.
No one is happier to see Baltimore recruits than Patsos. In his seven years at Loyola, the former Maryland assistant has stressed recruiting locally, but it took a few years before his efforts came to fruition.
"To get local kids, that was always part of the plan," Patsos said. "The plan sometimes takes a little longer than you think."
What: Baltimore Summer League
Where: Reitz Arena, Loyola University
When: Final games Sunday – 5th vs. 6th, 5:15 p.m.; 3rd vs. 4th, 6:30 p.m.; Championship, 7:45 p.m.