Dylon Cormier is smart enough to realize that he should not expect the Patriot League to roll out the red carpet for him and his Loyola men's basketball teammates as they begin their first season in the conference.
In fact, the 6-foot-3, 184-pound senior shooting guard said he and his teammates are anticipating a welcome that isn't warm and fuzzy.
"I think the other teams are going to try to make a statement," the Baltimore native and Cardinal Gibbons graduate said. "They're going to try show who's the best in the league."
After more than 20 years competing in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the Greyhounds made the move to the Patriot League. The transition has been in the works since the university made the announcement in August 2012, but this winter will be the first for the men's basketball program in a new conference.
Having tried to elbow its way into relevancy in the New York-centered MAAC, Loyola is looking forward to participating in the Patriot League, where six of 10 members are located in Pennsylvania (Bucknell, Lafayette and Lehigh), Maryland (Loyola and Navy) and Washington, D.C. (American).
"Being in the MAAC, we were the southernmost school," said G.G. Smith, a former Loyola assistant promoted to head coach in April after Jimmy Patsos left for Siena. "It was kind of like a New York league. Recruiting was really, really tough and intense with some of the teams. You always felt like [with] Iona, Siena, Manhattan, Buffalo, Fairfield, the MAAC wanted one of those guys to win. We had to really work because the tournament was always in the New York area. Never had it down in Baltimore. So it was always an uphill climb.
"With us going to the Patriot League, it was great for us," he continued. "I think it's great just geographically. It allows us to establish new rivalries with Navy and American in our backyard. It's good to take a couple trips to Annapolis and Washington, D.C., every year."
Having played Bucknell and Boston University in recent years, the Greyhounds have some familiarity with their new conference opponents. But they will need to make some adjustments.
While the style of play in the MAAC is generally regarded as more athletic and fast-paced, the Patriot League is considered to feature a more disciplined brand of basketball.
"I think it's a league that is very skilled on the perimeter," said Navy coach Ed DeChellis. "We played Siena [from the MAAC] a few times, and it was a more athletic league and there were more athletes in the MAAC. I think in the Patriot League, we have very skilled players on the perimeter. Guys can really shoot, guys can really pass. Maybe not the athleticism they're used to playing or the speed, but guys who really know how to play."
Loyola will also need to alter its recruiting strategy. Because of more stringent academic benchmarks in the Patriot League, players who might have qualified under MAAC requirements may no longer be viewed as worthy of recruiting.
Smith said the higher academic standards will streamline the recruiting process for the coaching staff, and although they figure to narrow the recruiting pool, he pointed out that former Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum and former Bucknell center Mike Muscala were selected in the most recent NBA draft.
"That's more [players drafted] than the MAAC had in the last 10 years," Smith said. "So you can say [to a player], 'You get a scholarship here, and we've had guys play at the NBA level. So you get the best of both worlds.' That's what we've used in our recruiting pitch when we switched leagues."
Although they went 23-12 last season and tied for second in the MAAC, the Greyhounds were picked to finish fifth in the Patriot League's preseason poll. That prediction hasn't escaped point guard R.J. Williams' attention.
"It didn't sit well with us, but it's only preseason," the 5-foot-9, 155-pound junior point guard from St. Frances said. "We've just got to come out here and prove them wrong. We've always been the underdog — since forever. So we've just got to prove them wrong and show them that they made a terrible mistake."
Smith said he understands the reasoning behind Loyola's predicted middle-of-the-pack finish.
"I understand that we lost a lot of people here — [forward] Erik Etherly, [guard] Robert Olson, [forward] Anthony Winbush, [forward] Julius Brooks," Smith said. "But at the same time, in the short term, I think we have the type of athletes that can compete right away in this league. If we can protect our home court and steal as many games on the road as we can, we definitely have a chance to be pretty good."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun