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Hounded by defeat

It's been almost 10 years now, and the office of Loyola athletic director Joe Boylan is free of any visible reminders of that dizzying three-day span, when the Greyhounds' underdog men's basketball team pulled off three straight wins to capture the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship.

But not a month goes by without Boylan being asked about that 1994 team, whose 80-75 victory over Manhattan in Albany, N.Y., propelled Loyola to its first and only Division I NCAA tournament.

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The trips down memory lane are a needed diversion these days.

This is Loyola's 10th straight losing season since that landmark triumph, and the Greyhounds are a combined 81-186 during that stretch. Three coaches have tried to recapture the magic Skip Prosser's squad created, and all have failed.

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There have been high-profile transfers and academic issues, and now Loyola is threatening the NCAA Division I standard for basketball futility with 30 straight losses.

With three more defeats, starting today at Fairfield, the Greyhounds would tie Grambling's record of 33 straight defeats, set from Dec. 6, 1999 to Dec. 16, 2000. Loyola plays again Thursday at home against Marist and Saturday at Saint Peter's.

"We have to win," said freshman guard Jamaal Dixon. "I can't deal with that record. It sticks with you the rest of your life."

If Loyola drops three straight, the Greyhounds (0-17, 0-8 MAAC) could strike Grambling from the record books with a loss to conference leader Manhattan on Feb. 4 at Reitz Arena.

The Greyhounds haven't won since Jan. 19 of last year, when they beat visiting Rider, 74-69, in overtime.

"Everybody talks about it -- teachers, people who drive the shuttles," said Dixon, who went to Thayer Academy in Massachusetts. "My whole high school career, I probably lost 12 games altogether. It's not fun at all. It makes me angry."

In the latest NCAA Rating Percentage Index, a formula used for NCAA tournament seeding, Loyola is last among 326 Division I programs.

"It's tough to stomach and not something to be proud of," said Mark Rohde, 49, who played for Loyola from 1972 to '76 and was an assistant coach there for two years. "We were never a great program, but a competitive one."

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The team's slide has led to speculation that fourth-year coach Scott Hicks, who is in the last year of his contract, will not be back. After being hired from the University of Albany in June 2000 to replace Dino Gaudio, Hicks has compiled a 15-87 record (.147 winning percentage).

Boylan said he won't discuss Hicks' future until after the season, but he did say that despite Hicks' record, he feels the 37-year-old coach "has done a lot of good things."

Loyola President Rev. Harold Ridley, who had Hicks as a student at LeMoyne College in New York and was the key figure in bringing him to Baltimore, also declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the discontent is growing.

In November, a group of 42 alumni, calling themselves the Loyola basketball advocates, met at Hunt Valley Country Club in a question-and-answer session with Boylan on the state of the program.

One attendee of the meeting said there were calls for Hicks' ouster, but Bob Connor Jr., who helped set up the meeting, denied that took place.

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"Not only as alumni of the school academically but as an alumni of its athletic program, we're embarrassed by what is happening," said Connor, who played basketball for Loyola from 1967 to '71.

Ecstasy to agony

Loyola's reputation as a mediocre program was supposed to change in 1994 when the Greyhounds followed a dreadful 2-25 season with a 17-13 campaign, which still stands as the program's high-water mark in 22 Division I seasons.

But Prosser, now at Wake Forest, left Loyola to take the head coaching job at Xavier of Ohio just days after that season ended with a first-round NCAA tournament loss to Arizona. The Greyhounds haven't been the same since.

Since the 1998-99 season, the Greyhounds' conference mark is 17-81, and they haven't finished better than ninth in the 10-team MAAC.

Loyola hasn't had a winning streak since the opening week of the 1999-2000 season, when it started 2-0 by winning the Battle of Baltimore tournament.

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"If we didn't think we could be competitive, we would drop the sport, and I don't think we plan on doing that," said Boylan, the 13-year athletic director. "But it's not easy [to win here]."

Winning models

Alumni have pointed to schools like Saint Joseph's (Pa.) and Xavier -- which like Loyola are small (all three have between 6,000 and 7,000 students), academic-driven Jesuit schools -- as proof that Loyola is capable of housing a competitive Division I program.

Saint Joseph's is currently ranked third in the country, and Xavier is an NCAA tournament regular. And the differences don't end there, starting with the perception that basketball is a second- or third-class citizen at Loyola, where lacrosse reigns.

Loyola's Reitz Arena can seat 3,000, but the average attendance at Greyhounds games has been around 800 -- and that is up significantly from last season. Loyola sold only 12 season-ticket packages for this season.

"As a college basketball player, your dream is to be in a really good basketball environment," said Lucious Jordan, Loyola's leading scorer the past two seasons who transferred to Albany for this season. "Everybody knows [Loyola] is not a basketball-oriented school. People on campus, you could really tell they didn't care about the basketball team."

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Still, Prosser, whose team electrified the school's tidy North Baltimore campus, sees a program that could be much more successful than it has been.

"At Xavier, it's just really important for the men's basketball team to win," said Prosser, who was at Xavier for 16 seasons (nine before coming to Loyola) as either the head coach or an assistant. "That's a feeling from the president on down. ... There was a belief that we're all in this together. I'm not sure that permeates the Loyola community. I'm not sure that they have made a commitment throughout the university to be successful."

Not an obsession

Boylan said that the revival of the basketball program is one of the athletic department's priorities.

"We want to be successful in basketball, but we're not obsessed with it, and there is a difference," said Boylan, who acknowledged that the school's academic standards are higher than some of Loyola's competition. "There are limits to what we'll do. This college isn't going to change for basketball."

Meanwhile, Hicks has been criticized for not recruiting enough locally, especially in the Baltimore Catholic League.

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"It seems we don't have a core base of recruiting," said David Gately, who played at Loyola from 1983 to '87. "When I played, all of the starters were from the Baltimore-D.C.-Philadelphia triangle."

Hicks said that his staff looks locally first, but it has to be the "right fit ... and just like other sports, kids want to get away."

This season's team has four foreign-born players (two Canadians and one each from Croatia and the Republic of Georgia), but the closest thing to a local is sophomore guard Charlie Bell, who is from Washington.

Since Hicks took over in the 2000-01 season, guard Damien Jenifer (Mervo) has been the only Marylander to play significant minutes, and he was recruited by Gaudio.

Mark Amatucci, who coached the Greyhounds from 1982 to '89, went just 4-24 in his first year, enduring a season-opening 17-game losing streak. But Amatucci, now at Calvert Hall high school, credited his ability to bring in local players for the program's turnaround.

From 1984 to '86, Loyola had three straight winning seasons -- something that hasn't been done since.

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Key losses

Retaining talent also has not been easy at Loyola.

During Brian Ellerbe's three-year coaching tenure that ended over philosophical differences in 1997 -- Ellerbe later moved on to coach Michigan -- three top Greyhounds bolted for other schools.

That trend continued under Gaudio, who turned down a contract extension and resigned after a tumultuous 1999-2000 season.

That season, Ryan Blosser quit the team for personal reasons, highly recruited forward Clifford Strong got hurt and transferred to St. Francis (N.Y.), and MAAC preseason Player of the Year Jason Rowe, a 1,000-point scorer, was expelled. Rowe's grades were good enough by NCAA standards, but not by the college's and he was dismissed from the school in late January.

Gaudio said that the academic board's decision to expel the senior sent the wrong message.

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"There was a kid who had zero off-the-court problems," said Gaudio, whose three-year record was 32-51. "I could understand if he was dismissed from the team because of the school's academic standards, but dismissed from school? That was difficult to take."

Hicks has had only one senior on his roster in each of the past three seasons.

The big blow was forward John Reimold leaving for personal reasons in 2001 after a season in which he was named the MAAC Freshman of the Year. He's now at Bowling Green, averaging 15 points a game.

"When you lose starters at a small school, you're hurting," said Edward "Nappy" Doherty, who coached Loyola from 1961 to '74.

Currently, the Greyhounds have only five healthy players. Bell, the team's leading scorer, and freshman Michael Tuck are hobbled with bum ankles. Bernard Allen has a sore shoulder and has spent the week sick in bed.

Hicks has been forced to use eight different starting lineups -- most including two to three freshmen.

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But even with the injuries, Loyola is not losing as badly as it did last season. The Greyhounds have held five halftime leads, including in last Sunday's 66-64 loss to Canisius, in which Loyola blew a late nine-point advantage. They've lost three times by four points, and once by two points.

"It's tough, but all we can do is keep our heads up and we'll get one real soon," Bell said.

No laughing matter

Hicks is proud of how hard his team has played and of the development of first-year guards Dixon and Shane James, whom he called the best freshman in the MAAC.

But after 30 straight losses, moral victories have long lost their luster.

After a 79-55 loss to Niagara on Jan. 6, Hicks, leaning against a wall outside Loyola's locker room, gazed steadfastly to the floor. His answers to reporters' questions trailed in and out.

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"I don't think I've ever had a terribly great ego so it's not like my ego has been knocked down," Hicks said. "But as a coach, when you lose this often, it's difficult to take."

Hicks has kept his sense of humor. When asked about the support he has gotten from other coaches, Hicks, sporting a rare grin, said, "I don't have many wins, but I do have a lot of friends."

With each loss inching them closer to Grambling's dubious skid, the Greyhounds are getting more and more attention.

The streak has become national news, too. USA Today had an item in Friday's paper. ESPN and the The New York Times have called, and the traditionally barren press row at Reitz Arena may be filling soon. Even The Tonight Show has checked in to see if Loyola would be an appropriate punch line for Jay Leno.

"It's disappointing, not embarrassing. Embarrassing would be if our players were being arrested for assault," Boylan said. "People are concerned because you'd like to have programs that you can talk about. Obviously now, this program is being talked about, but not the way we would like it to be talked about."

Sun staff writer Mike Klingaman contributed to this article.

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Loyola by the numbers

30 Current losing streak

326 RPI ranking (out of 326 teams)

10 Head coaches since 1975

.147 Scott Hicks' Loyola winning percentage

0 Winning seasons since 1994-1995

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Streak dogs 'Hounds

Since a 74-69 overtime victory over visiting Rider on Jan. 19, 2003, Loyola's men's basketball team has lost 30 in a row. It's the longest current streak in men's Division I and three off the Division I men's record of 33 by Grambling from Dec. 6, 1999, to Dec. 16, 2000. Loyola's streak and remaining schedule, including opponents' overall and conference records:

2002-03 season

Date Opp., Time Res./Rec.

Jan. 23 at Siena L, 81-65

Jan. 26 Canisius L, 79-65

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Jan. 29 St. Peter's L, 73-54

Feb. 2 at Maryland L, 85-58

Feb. 9 at Marist L, 72-65

Feb. 11 Siena L, 75-58

Feb. 14 at Canisius L, 76-64

Feb. 16 at Niagara L, 79-66

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Feb. 21 at Rider L, 50-44

Feb. 23 vs. Manhattan-a L, 83-49

Feb. 27 Iona L, 82-45

March 1 Fairfield L, 69-51

March 7 Iona-b L, 62-39

2003-04 season

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Date Opp., Time Res./Rec.

Nov. 21 UMBC-c L, 72-50

Nov. 22 Coppin State-c L, 82-65

Nov. 29 Towson L, 66-62

Dec. 2 at Iona L, 77-60

Dec. 6 at Duquesne L, 70-61

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Dec. 8 St. Peter's L, 80-66

Dec. 10 at Delaware L, 76-71

Dec. 13 at Mt. St. Mary's L, 75-71

Dec. 29 Princeton L, 74-54

Jan. 3 at Navy L, 58-54

Jan. 5 Central Conn. L, 67-62

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Jan. 7 Rider L, 71-59

Jan. 9 at Marist L, 64-48

Jan. 13 Siena L, 81-59

Jan. 16 Niagara L, 79-55

Jan. 18 Canisius L, 66-64

Jan. 23 at Manhattan L, 96-63

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Jan. 25 at Fairfield, 1:30 9-8, 2-4

Jan. 29 Marist, 7:30 5-12, 3-5

Jan. 31 at St. Peter's, 3 11-6, 7-1

Feb. 4 Manhattan, 7:30 13-3, 8-0

Feb. 8 at Rider, 4 10-6, 4-2

Feb. 12 at Siena, 7 6-11, 3-5

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Feb. 19 at Niagara, 7 11-5, 5-2

Feb. 21 at Canisius, 2 7-11, 2-5

Feb. 25 Fairfield, 8:30 9-8, 2-4

Feb. 29 Iona, 4 5-12, 3-5

March 5-8 MAAC tourn.-d, TBA

a-at Trenton, N.J. b-MAAC tournament, Trenton, N.J. c-Battle of Baltimore, Towson Center d-at Albany, N.Y.

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Loyola results year by year

(Since 1994-95)

Season Overall Conf.*

1994-95 9-18 5-9

1995-96 12-15 8-6

1996-97 13-14 10-4

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1997-98 12-16 9-9

1998-99 13-15 6-12

1999-00 7-21 4-14

2000-01 6-23 2-16

2001-02 5-23 4-14

2002-03 4-24 1-17

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2003-04 0-17 0-8

Note: Conference record does not include postseason tournament.

Hitting the skids

Loyola's 30-game losing streak is tied for the third longest in NCAA history for Division I men's basketball:

No. Team Dates

33 Grambling 12-6-99 to 12-16-00

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32 Cal St.-Sac. 12-6-93 to 12-28-94

30 Loyola 1-23-03 to present

30 The Citadel 1-16-54 to 12-12-55

30 Prairie View 2-25-91 to 12-5-92

29 UMass 1-26-79 to 2-1-80

Source: NCAA


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