When Brian Ellerbe refused to let him participate in a Loyola practice last week, sophomore guard Darius Johnson said that he knew he was finished as a Greyhound.
On Friday, before Loyola played against Fairfield, the school announced that Johnson had quit the team by mutual agreement between Johnson and Ellerbe, Loyola's first-year coach.
Johnson said yesterday that he was given no choice but to quit, based on episodes that occurred during and after Loyola's last road trip, a three-game swing that began in Maine two weeks ago.
Johnson, the Greyhounds' second-leading scorer at 12.5 points, TC had started the previous eight games, but was in a shooting slump as Loyola (5-10) began its road trip. He said he understood why he didn't start against Maine. But when he sat for nearly the entire first half and watched freshman walk-on Greg Schaefer enter the game before him, Johnson said he sensed something was wrong.
"I was curious as to why that happened. We [Ellerbe and Johnson] had a meeting that night," said Johnson, who had played 36 minutes in Loyola's previous game against Delaware. "I asked him what I had done wrong. He said it was time for me to transfer. I was kind of stunned. There's no way I could see that coming.
"He [Ellerbe] told me I don't do enough to improve my game outside of practice, that I don't love the game the way he does. He told me I'd never play for Brian Ellerbe again. I asked him, 'Why can't I play for you if I'm playing 32 minutes a game? Can't I at least come off the bench for you?' It didn't seem like he wanted to reason with me."
The 10 minutes Johnson played against Maine turned out to be his last minutes for Loyola. Johnson watched the next two games at Niagara and Canisius in street clothes. After the team returned home last week, he showed up for practice, but he said Ellerbe would not let him participate in drills.
"I came to practice, and he [Ellerbe] didn't even acknowledge me. That's when I knew it was over," said Johnson.
Ellerbe declined to go into detail about Johnson's departure. He ruled out academic or disciplinary factors.
"Darius is a good kid and a good student," Ellerbe said. "He and I came to a mutual agreement about this. It was pretty much decided when we came back from the trip. I don't want to speculate about it.
"This is not an ugly situation by any stretch. I don't want to smear Darius at all. I know that whatever he intends to do, he'll do well."
Senior forward B.J. Pendleton said: "We were kind of disturbed about it. Everybody was like, 'What's going on?' . . . It's the coach's decision, and that's final. It's been a wild year already."
Johnson, who has been assured that he will retain his basketball scholarship, said he has not decided what to do next. He might transfer after the spring semester. He might end up staying at Loyola to become "a regular student."
Whatever he decides, the Greyhounds have lost someone who played an integral role in the most memorable season in Loyola history. Johnson started all 30 of Loyola's games in 1993-94.
Johnson, 6 feet 3, won several games with last-minute shots. His finest moment came in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, which the Greyhounds won as the fifth seed to qualify for their first NCAA tournament in Division I. Johnson made the game-winning three-pointer with 30 seconds left, as Loyola stunned Manhattan, 80-75, in the MAAC final. The Greyhounds finished with a 17-13 record, their first winning season in seven years.
After not starting Loyola's first three games this season, Johnson started the next eight, averaging 34 minutes over that span. His scoring average steadily rose. Just before Christmas, he scored a season-high 27 in a victory over American. During that eight-game stretch, Johnson also moved into second place on the team in steals.
For his 42-game career, Johnson averaged 11.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.1 steals.
"I guess I don't take basketball as seriously as he [Ellerbe] wants me to. In my time off the court, I try to work on my academics. I'm not here just for basketball," Johnson said.
"This is not about playing time. It's about the way he treated me."