High-scoring Dylon Cormier learns that leading Loyola is hard work

It sounds like the greatest deal in the world — play virtually every minute of every game, take twice as many shots as anybody else, serve as a role model for the guys following in your footsteps.

You could even say it perfectly fulfills the fantasies Dylon Cormier harbored as a basketball-mad kid growing up in Pasadena and Randallstown. He wanted to be Allen Iverson. And at least in the context of Loyola basketball, he kind of is.


Here's the thing, though. Now that he's living his dream, Cormier will tell you it's awfully hard work being the singular, no-doubt-about-it top dog on a basketball team.

The stress goes beyond aches and pains, felt after another night of Cormier hurling his slender frame into burlier defenders. Until this season, he never sensed that every eye in the room was on him, that if he shook his head or slumped his shoulders, he might throw the whole team into an emotional funk.

"It's definitely a job being the go-to guy," says the 6-foot-3 senior guard, who has ranked among the top scorers in college basketball all season. "You're on the stage all the time. It's actually stressful. A lot of guys would be like, 'Man Dylon, you're good. You're getting a lot of shots, scoring a lot of points.' But it all doesn't mean anything if you're not winning. If you're doing all that and coming up short, it hurts even more."

Cormier, 21, comes off as the mellowest guy in the world, discussing his career at a cafe table down the hall from Loyola's Reitz Arena. He smiles easily from underneath a gray hoodie, fielding every question without hesitation. But he admits this has been a season of discomfort and adjustment, despite his scoring average of 21.6 points per game, which ranks 12th nationally entering the Greyhounds' (9-11) game Saturday against Army.

For the first time, Cormier is playing this year without Erik Etherly, Robert Olson and Anthony Winbush, his key running mates in resurrecting Loyola's program. He's playing in the unfamiliar Patriot League, filled with slower, more structured offenses. He's doing it under a new head coach, G.G. Smith, whose measured demeanor presents a sharp contrast to Jimmy Patsos' zany bluster.

"Our team is a new team," Cormier says. "We lost more than 3,000 points in scoring. So it's going to be difficult when you've got new personnel, new ways of playing. Everything we experience is for the first time right now."

Cormier wants the responsibility, Smith says, even if some aspects of leading come less naturally than others.

"We talk about his body language and how everything he does on and off the court will reflect not just on this team but on the guys the next few years," says the first-year coach and former Georgia standout. "Some people attack that pressure, and some people fold under that pressure. He's been attacking it."


'Tough Baltimore scorer'

It's safe to say Cormier is as important as any player to enter Loyola's program in recent years. He not only established himself as a fearless scorer the moment he laced his sneakers, he paved the way for Loyola to recruit the kinds of Baltimore players who had long ignored the private university.

"I know he played a big role in me coming," says starting point guard R.J. Williams (St. Frances), who has known Cormier since middle school.

Cormier says he actually shined more on the football field than the basketball court during his youth in Pasadena and later Randallstown. He had a chance to play cornerback and running back at St. Mary's in Annapolis. Only his contrarian streak led him to choose basketball.

Williams liked Cormier but didn't see his full potential when they first played together. "He was just this little spot-up shooter," he recalls.

Regardless, Cormier's mother, Cyndi Smoot, went all in supporting her son's ambitions. She sent him to camps and drove him to every Amateur Athletic Union game, even though she was a single mother with a daily commute from Pasadena to Northern Virginia. She was a cheerleader at Milford Mill, not an athlete. But hers is the first name Cormier throws out when asked his greatest basketball influence.


"I just had to be there for my boys," Smoot says. "It was challenging, but it was a necessity."

Cormier thrived at Cardinal Gibbons, where he was a member of the school's last senior class and the last in a long line of basketball stars. The Crusaders didn't win like they had with past standouts Quintin Dailey and Steve Wojciechowski, but Cormier achieved an honored place in a loaded Baltimore class that included NBA draft pick Josh Selby and current Syracuse star C.J. Fair.

He still enjoys following his former high school rivals on television.

The biggest schools didn't come calling for Cormier. He wanted to stay home so he could mentor his brother, Chase, who now plays at Grambling State, and to be near his mother. But he says he'd never heard of Loyola until Patsos pursued him. He had to ask if the program was even Division I.

Patsos told him he'd start right away and score more than 1,000 points in his career. "That was the best offer I heard," Cormier says.

It turned out Patsos wasn't just selling. His promises to Cormier came true, and Loyola soared in the process, breaking an 18-year NCAA tournament drought in 2012 and winning 23 games last year.

With Olson and Etherly sharing the scoring load, Cormier was a star but didn't have to be the star. Patsos and the coaches loved him, because they knew he wouldn't shrink from a tough match-up or a big game.

"He's a big-time, tough Baltimore scorer," Smith says. "That's his role. He's going to get buckets no matter what."

'This is your team'

With Olson, Etherly and Winbush graduating after last season, Cormier knew a more complex challenge lay ahead. The degree of difficulty only increased when Patsos left for Siena.

Cormier was one of the first people Smith met with as he began his transition from assistant to head coach. "This is your team," the coach told him.

Cormier jokes that he's yet to see Smith break a dry-erase board in the Patsos tradition.

"Me and Jimmy, we didn't have to talk much," Cormier says. "We understood each other. We bumped heads in the games, we'd yell at each other, but then we'd tap each other on the butt and everything was cool. This year, G.G. is more of a calm and collected coach, and we talk a lot. … Just conversations trying to keep me on the positive."

In Loyola's first 20 games, Cormier has led the Greyhounds in scoring 19 times. He accounts for just under a third of the team's points, a burden matched by few players in the country.

He's not a dead-eye shooter, so he scores many of his points by slashing to the basket or drawing fouls, a style that leaves him perpetually sore. Smith worries sometimes that he's playing Cormier too many minutes.

If so, the wear and tear wasn't evident in Loyola's back-to-back home games against Lehigh and Lafayette earlier this month, conference wins in which the senior guard combined for 50 points on 21-of-33 shooting.


That kind of play makes Smith believe Cormier has a future in professional ball, probably overseas.

Cormier, meanwhile, ponders the best ways to inspire his teammates, some of whom have struggled with increased roles. He studies them, learning which ones prefer to talk on the side and which accept being called out in front of the group.

"You looked more comfortable last year, coming off the bench for your 8-10 minutes," he tells them. "Now you're playing 30 of those minutes. You should be the happiest person in the world, walking in with your chest out."

His mother, who knows him as well as anyone, has watched him struggle with seizing the mantle.

"I don't think he enjoyed it," she says. "But I think it's a necessity, and I see him coming into his own."

Cormier tries to arrive at practice early and stay late. He tries to finish first in drills and maintain a steady mood during games. It's a lot to think about when he's also trying to score those buckets.

But he must do it, because everyone is watching.