Loyola, UMBC look to weather cold

Lower your center of gravity while boxing out.

Shout out screens.


Bundle up in a parka and a knit cap, pack another and consider wearing compression gear or thermals under your shirt and slacks.

A college basketball player's checklist isn't restricted to what occurs on the floor. As the southernmost programs in their conferences, Loyola College and UMBC have spent the past month enduring the elements as much as the competition.


They are among three Baltimore men's teams seeking long-shot NCAA berths of varying degree in conference tournaments that begin this weekend.

Seventh-seeded Towson would face an uphill climb in the Colonial Athletic Association even if it were gathering at the Towson Center rather than the Richmond (Va.) Coliseum. The Greyhounds and Retrievers, conversely, also have to consider real estate dynamics: location, location, location.

Loyola is the third seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament in Bridgeport, Conn. Its quarterfinal opponent is Fairfield, the tournament host and only team to sweep the Greyhounds in the regular season.

Tomorrow's 10 p.m. tip-off will conclude a long week that began in Buffalo, N.Y., where a three-point win over Canisius was followed by a four-hour airport delay because of Sunday's winter storm.

The Greyhounds got eight of their 17 wins during an unseasonably warm January. February began with road trips to Marist, when it was 11 degrees in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Fairfield. In between, Super Bowl Sunday was spent in Manhattan, where they picked up more than culture.

"We went to the Dakota, so they could learn about John Lennon, and the Museum of Metropolitan Art," coach Jimmy Patsos said. "They're outside for an hour, then they walk five blocks to the movies. Some didn't dress properly. I gave them too much freedom.

"I'm just as bad. Except for games, I don't wear socks."

Loyola went 0-2 on that trip, but figured to avenge the Fairfield loss Feb. 11. Gerald Brown was unable to play the last 10 minutes, however, and spent the night under observation at Union Memorial Hospital. The All-MAAC junior guard's response to his failing health compounded his condition.


"December, even January, the weather wasn't bad, it's not like you needed a big coat," the former Douglass High player said. "When I came down with a cold, it never got better. I took too much decongestant, overdid the stimulants and ended up dehydrated and with a rapid heartbeat."

Brown has forsaken his daily dose of caffeine for water and orange juice. The Greyhounds won two games without him, and the healthiest players on a snakebitten roster are seniors Shane James and Josko Alujevic.

UMBC captain Mike Housman also applies a veteran touch. Remember Wednesday's sunshine and mild temperatures? At 1 p.m., Housman wore a parka and knit cap, which remained on his head as he sat down to chat inside the RAC Arena.

"Brian [Hodges] is the best," Housman said of the Retrievers' leading scorer. "He's wearing hats, jackets, long johns, thermals. Young players have to learn. You walk outside in sweaty workout gear without a hat, in some of the places we go, and you're asking for it."

At some venues, there might be a 10-yard walk from the bus to an arena loading dock. On campus, however, a generation that doesn't shower at the gym is walking back to the dorm - often with their first layer being the gear they practiced in.

Cindy Kubiet, UMBC's director of sports medicine, educates the Retrievers about winter dos and don'ts. Housman paid attention, but nonetheless took ill, the same weekend Loyola's Brown bottomed out. On Feb. 8, Housman played with a fever at Vermont, one that spiked to 104 degrees the next morning.


"My neck was lined with ice packs during the bus ride to the airport," Housman said. "Cindy bumped me to the front of the security checkpoint. I was worried. I spent the next 72 hours in bed. Over the next week, the only time I got up was to go to class."

Housman and fellow senior Chris Pugh entered UMBC when it joined the America East Conference. As freshmen, they won at New Hampshire. Since then, the Retrievers are 1-21 in New England, not the best omen for the conference tournament in Boston.

UMBC will take the fifth seed up against Maine at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow. For the first time, the Retrievers did not have a play-in game.

"That says how far the program has come," coach Randy Monroe said, "and where we're going."

While UMBC has had to bus several hours from the airport in Manchester, N.H., to Maine and Vermont, a major deterrent has been the talent at some America East outposts. Housman was a sophomore when Taylor Coppenrath and Vermont got to the second round of the NCAAs.

Much more daunting depth has tested Gary Neal and Towson, which opens CAA play at 6 tonight with a first-round game against UNC Wilmington.


T.J. Carter, who played on some fine Chopticon High teams with Towson's Jonathan Pease, was the Seahawks' top returning scorer, but missed the season with a groin injury. Minus Carter, UNC Wilmington went from a No. 9 seed in the NCAAs to a No. 10 in the CAA. George Mason, meanwhile, has gone from the Final Four to a tie for fifth in the CAA.

Towson coach Pat Kennedy admits that the quality of the CAA took him by surprise. Neal, conversely, didn't anticipate a drop-off after starring at La Salle, where he went up against two national Players of the Year, Xavier's David West (2003) and Jameer Nelson of Saint Joseph's (2004).

"The Atlantic 10 was top-heavy when I was there, there was a falling off after Xavier, St. Joe and Dayton," Neal said. "I expected this out of the CAA. I played in high school [at Aberdeen] with Jai Lewis. I knew how good his George Mason teams had to be to make a dent in this conference.

"If people are going to talk about mid-major conferences, and put that system in place, then we're [the CAA] No. 1 or 2."

A win tonight would put the Tigers' in tomorrow's quarterfinals, against an Old Dominion team sharpening its at-large credentials. Towson will be followed by the largest fan contingent it has ever taken to a CAA tournament.