For starters, Smith had to hire three new assistant coaches after Greg Manning and Luke D’Alessio followed Patsos to upstate New York. Then there was the matter of recruiting an entirely new 2013 class after forward Lavon Long (Oakland Mills) and point guard Marquis Wright (North Point) were released from their letters of intent and later signed with the Saints. Shooting guard Maurice White (St. Frances) and power forward Michael Wolfe (Georgetown Prep) also withdrew their commitments to the Greyhounds. White, who never signed an LOI to Loyola, also pledged to Siena (but hasn't yet signed), while Wolfe considered prep school before committing to Patsos again.
There is, however, plenty of continuity on Cold Spring Lane. Senior shooting guard Dylon Cormier (Cardinal Gibbons), senior center Jordan Latham (City) and junior point guard R.J. Williams (St. Frances) will take on leadership roles, while sophomores Tyler Hubbard, Jarred Jones (John Carroll), Eric Laster and Franz Rassman return as well.
Smith will welcome six newcomers to his roster: true freshmen Jevon Patton (a point guard) and Nick Gorski (a power forward); redshirt freshmen Damion Rashford (a shooting guard), Josh Forney (center from St. Frances) and Sean Tuohy Jr. (a point guard); and redshirt junior transfer Denzel Brito (a guard).
Smith spoke with The Baltimore Sun this week about taking over as coach, what he expects from his newcomers and veterans, expectations of the team and more.
What have you been up to since landing the head coaching job? I imagine it’s been pretty hectic since you took over.
Yeah, it’s been pretty hectic. When you get these jobs, you’re trying to do 100 things all at once. My biggest thing has been trying to delegate stuff to my assistants. I hired a great staff. I obviously hired Keith Booth, a guy who was at Maryland, he’s a Baltimore guy. He was over on the women’s side. So I thought it was great to have someone who knew Loyola, knew the Baltimore area very well. So I stole Booth from Coach [Joe] Logan there, the women’s coach. He was OK with it (laughs).
I thought it was very important to hire a Patriot League guy. I hired Josh Loeffler, the [director of basketball operations] at Rutgers this past season. He was at Lafayette with Coach [Fran] O’Hanlon for four years. He knows the Patriot League, he knows the academic index. Gives us a little bit of a different voice. He’s been a head coach before in Division III. So he’s here on our staff.
Hired Dan Ficke, one of our former players. He’s from Colorado, played here four years. I thought it was important to hire a former player. And Kevin Farrell stayed here. He’s the [director of basketball operations], was a former team manager. He pretty much does everything for us. That’s our staff. Other than that, just being in this position now, having worked for Jimmy for six years, the things that you deal with on and off the court are a big change. You become a decision maker, good or bad. Everything falls with me, ends with me. That’s the biggest adjustment.
The recruiting class seemingly fell apart after the coaching change. Was that a contentious or worrisome time for you and the staff, or was it expected?
Well I knew when Jimmy first took the job at Siena, I knew some of the recruits that loved him, there was always thought that those guys would go with Jimmy. We knew that was an option. They were open about that, I was open about that. When they decided to go – Lavon Long and Marquis Wright decided to take their commitments to Siena – we had to recruit a couple guys. We had to get a guard and we had to get a big man.
The guard we signed out of Charlotte, Jevon Patton, his team went 30-0, won a state championship in North Carolina. He’s going to be a great backup point guard to R.J. to start the season. He’s very tough, a leader. One thing I liked about him is he transferred into Olympic High School in North Carolina from a team before where he was a man. Then he became a leader, a distributor because his team has like five Division I guys on the team. He became the leader and delegated authority to other guys on his team. I saw him play a couple times, saw him play in the state championship against [N.C. State coach] Mark Gottfried’s son – Cam Gottfried at Broughton High School. He played extremely well and I was really impressed. So we got him.
Then we signed Nick Gorski from out of Richmond, Va. Nick Gorski played at Benedictine High School. Obviously we like his size. He has a skill set – he can handle the ball, he can shoot, he can pass and shoot the ball well for a guy his size. He has a brother that played at UIC up in Chicago. So he has a great pedigree. And he’s not far from here – he’s from Richmond. I think he’ll be a good fit. Both guys fit that Patriot League [profile]. They fit that academic index, the type of guys we’re looking for. Stuff is going to change with our recruiting philosophy now that we’re going to the Patriot League instead of the MAAC.
Recruiting Baltimore was a very big priority when Loyola played in the MAAC. I imagine that would continue to some extent with Booth on staff. But do you expect priorities to change with the Patriot League? Will recruiting territories change given the academic standards of the Patriot League?
Well first of all, even in the MAAC, we always recruited the best student-athletes, no matter where they were. Obviously with us switching to the Patriot League – the MAAC is more of like a northeastern basketball league; the Patriot League is a nationally known conference, kind of like the Ivy League. When I took the job, I did some research. Most of the players come from California, Texas, Minnesota, Florida. So we’re going to have to recruit nationally.
The biggest difference for us is that locally, we’re still going to recruit hard because the Baltimore Catholic League and the [Washington Catholic Athletic Conference], we have great students coming from those schools and they have great basketball. So we’re still going to recruit the DMV really, really hard. For us, we’re going to have to hit the West Coast, spend more money travelling on recruiting, because it is a national league.
Just to be associated with teams like Bucknell, Lehigh and Holy Cross, just to be associated with those guys is really, really important for us, athletically and academically. With us and [Boston University] coming into the conference, with our history athletic-wise and our history academic-wise, hopefully it's just going to build and make our league a lot better. The Patriot League has been very successful. They’re going to have two guys get drafted, probably in the first round, in [Bucknell’s] Mike Muscala and [Lehigh’s] C.J. McCollum. The MAAC hasn’t had that happen in a long time. They never had two guys in the first round. Patriot League is about to do it this year.
We’ve established relationships with Bucknell. We played them the last four years. Won at their place twice, they won here twice. So we know their league. We played BU the last couple years, so we’re familiar with them. We know [former Mount St. Mary’s] coach [Milan] Brown at Holy Cross. We’ve played American in the past. The thing we want to do is establish a rivalry with Navy and with American. Now we get to go to D.C. every year and we get to go to Annapolis every year. That’s going to be a big recruiting tool, and I think that’s going to be big for us as a school, having those teams locally and establishing some great rivalries that way.