As a teammate within the Loyola Maryland men’s basketball program, Santi Aldama has grown to appreciate what Cameron Spencer can bring to the court.
As a roommate of Spencer’s, well, Aldama’s admiration has its limits.
In a six-person suite that also houses sophomores Golden Dike and Daraun Gray and freshmen Wade Jackson and Alonso Faure, Aldama has approached Spencer on several occasions about the amount of time he spends in the bathroom and his habit of filling the trash can with empty water bottles without dumping them in a recycling bin.
“I will take the trash out and bring it back in, and within a day, it will be full,” said Aldama, a 6-foot-11, 224-pound sophomore power forward from Spain. “He sees that I don’t like it, and sometimes he will just do it looking at me so that he can see my face. But I really can’t get mad because I know that he sometimes doesn’t do it on purpose. It’s fun.”
Spencer, a 6-4, 207-pound sophomore shooting guard who grew up in Davidsonville and graduated from Boys’ Latin, acknowledged how difficult living with him might be for Aldama.
“He might not like me as a roommate,” Spencer said with a smile. “I do some little things that drive him nuts, but that’s just how it is.”
Thankfully for Aldama and the Greyhounds (5-10), Spencer’s on-court contributions outweigh any headaches he might cause for his roommates. In his past three games — all against Patriot League rival Navy — he has averaged 10.3 points and 4.3 rebounds.
In No. 9 seed Loyola’s 76-68 upset of the top-seeded Midshipmen on Saturday in a conference tournament quarterfinal, he amassed 10 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals. His performance helped the team advance to a semifinal date with No. 4 seed Army West Point (12-8) in West Point, New York, at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“He’s important in every aspect that we do because he really knows how to play the game offensively and defensively,” coach Tavaras Hardy said. “He sees things, he can pass, he can shoot, he can get guys fired up in understanding what is right in those moments, and he’s a competitor. All of those things are what we needed, so it’s been good to add that to the team. It’s what we thought we were going to have from the get-go.”
Having Spencer from the start would have been ideal, but offseason hip surgery last summer delayed his participation. Spencer — the younger brother of Pat Spencer, a star lacrosse player for the Greyhounds who played one season of basketball at Northwestern — characterized the issue as a “deformity” in which the top of his femur bone was not properly attached to the hip joint. The discomfort began in January 2020 as conference play was underway.
“It was a constant pain, but as I continued to play on it, it would shoot up my hip and pretty much just give out on me,” he said, characterizing the sensation as a nine on a scale of one to 10. “It would shoot up the front of my hip, and it just felt like a knife was hitting me there.”
After a freshman year in which he averaged 10.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists, Spencer was scheduled for surgery, but the coronavirus pandemic pushed the operation back to June with a projected recovery time of six to eight months. The process was slow and exasperating.
“The recovery definitely took longer than expected,” he said. “That was the frustrating part. … I really just worked my butt off every day to try to get back. I didn’t know when it would be, but I just tried to recover every day and get better so that I could be back out on the floor as soon as possible.”
Spencer sat out the first 12 games during which Loyola went 4-8, including 0-5 from the outset. He chafed at the lack of medical clearance, which did not go unnoticed by Hardy.
“He’s one of those guys that I can look in the eye and I can tell that his drive and determination are boiling,” he said. “So sometimes you’ve got to calm him down, but in my opinion, that’s a good problem to have. I want guys that are fired up like that.”
Spencer returned for the team’s final two games of the regular season, totaling 21 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals in back-to-back losses to Navy. A promising start, but nothing to write home about.
“I feel like I could’ve played better,” he said. “I have pretty high expectations. I wanted to go out and do well. As far as endurance, I didn’t know how my endurance would be, but it has been better than I expected. … Definitely the shooting rhythm isn’t all the way there yet, and that’s to be expected, but I think I’m getting it back game by game.”
Aldama said it is evident that Spencer is still not fully healthy, but noted that his roommate has not complained or made excuses.
“The way he went about his business with the rehab every day, he just worked to be back out here,” he said. “I know that he’s still not 100%, but he’s still playing at a great level. That’s what we needed from him. … He could have waited another year to be at 100%. He didn’t practice much, but he came and played. So we’ve got to be grateful for that. He’s already playing at a high level. So he’s going to help us out a lot in these playoffs.”
Spencer’s playing time has increased by eight minutes in each game, and Hardy said he did not consider keeping him on a pitch count.
“With the things he brings to the table, he has earned the minutes he’s gotten, and they continue to increase based on the three games that he’s played,” he said. “I don’t think of him as someone I need to rest. I think of him as, if I need him out there, I’m going to put him out there. I don’t have him on any type of restriction or anything like that.”
The seven assists Spencer compiled in Saturday’s win marked a career high, and he was quick to credit his teammates for canning their shots and making his numbers look good. But Midshipmen coach Ed DeChellis said Spencer knows how to enhance his teammates.
“I see him being like the floor general and giving the other guys courage with his communication and talking,” DeChellis said. “He makes plays to help other guys. I think he makes the other guys on the team better. … He understands their offense, and he makes good decisions.”
The Greyhounds and Black Knights did not meet this winter, but Loyola has not won in West Point since Feb. 6, 2016 — a string of four straight losses. Hardy is hoping that Spencer’s return will prove timely.
“It’s one game at a time, but having him be able to finish the season and play a couple games to get his timing back and getting him fully integrated as we’re competing in this win-or-go-home setting certainly helps,” he said.
Spencer said he is eager to do as much as he can.
“I wish we would have had a better record, and I wish I could have played earlier,” he said. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but at the end of the day, you play to do well in the playoffs. So we were able to win the first one, but we want to win a couple more.”
Patriot League quarterfinal
Wednesday, 5:30 p.m.
TV: CBS Sports Network