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Familiar faces await Loyola men's basketball coach G.G. Smith this year

Loyola men's basketball coach G.G. Smith.
Loyola men's basketball coach G.G. Smith. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun)

The roots of Loyola Maryland basketball coach G.G. Smith are spread wide.

They go all the way out to Lubbock, Texas, where his father, Tubby Smith, is now in his second season at Texas Tech, after spending the past two decades in more high-profile coaching jobs. They also can be found in Loudonville, N.Y., where his former boss, Jimmy Patsos, is in his second season at Siena.

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Because the younger Smith wants to move from the shadows cast by his father and Patsos, but also keep those ties strong, his Greyhounds will go on the road to face the Red Raiders in their season opener Friday and welcome the Saints to Reitz Arena on Nov. 29.

"I'm very fortunate for what Jimmy did for me and for what my dad has done," the younger Smith said after a recent practice. "I have two pretty good mentors. Hopefully, I can have as much success as they have had."

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Just as Smith's father took over a Tulsa program on NCAA probation before beginning a rise that eventually led to his coaching Kentucky, and just as Patsos took over a 1-27 team at Loyola and brought the school to only its second NCAA tournament appearance, in 2012, G.G. Smith is rebuilding the Greyhounds.

"It was a learning curve, being the head man, making your own decisions," Smith said. "For us, it was different: being in the new league, new travel, new coach. This year, I feel a little more confident about where we're going and what to expect."

Tubby Smith thinks the oldest of his three sons — all of whom have followed him into coaching — will be successful in Loyola's rebuilding process.

"It was a tough year for the Smiths, and I know he isn't used to that," said the elder Smith, who endured his first losing season as a Division I coach last year. "G.G. was so unflappable as a player [at Georgia]. I think his personality is suitable to handle changes and the patience you're going to need to build that program the right way."

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The younger Smith is also part of the school's rebranding in the Patriot League.

After going 11-19 in Smith's first season as head coach, and 6-12 in the school's inaugural season in the Patriot League, Loyola is starting its second season in a league much different, both academically and stylistically, from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Smith's first season was one of transitions: first to the Patriot League, then to life without Dylon Cormier (Cardinal Gibbons), who missed the last nine games with a broken hand. The Greyhounds won their first game after Cormier's injury, handing American its first league loss, then lost seven of the last eight.

Even Patsos said it would have been difficult for him without Cormier, who was leading the Greyhounds in scoring and rebounding when he was injured.

"I believe, if Dylon Cormier doesn't get hurt, they have a winning record," Patsos said.

G.G. Smith said he is more prepared for what's in store this season.

"I think we've got a good hold of what the league is like going after, through one year, one cycle," he said. "Get to know some of these players, how our league recruits, it gives us a better chance of winning in the league."

Patsos, who was followed to upstate New York by the top two recruits in his final Loyola recruiting class, has faith that his protege will get the job done in Baltimore.

In fact, Patsos said in an interview Monday that Smith's background as a "grind-it-out point guard" who played for his father at Georgia before the elder Smith left for Kentucky is typically more of a prototype for good college coaches.

To Patsos, there is an even more important reason.

"I really think he really fits Loyola's image. … I really think G.G. Smith might be more equipped than me to coach in the Patriot League," Patsos said. "G.G.'s wife's a doctor. G.G.'s got his master's [degree]. G.G.'s an academic-first guy. That picture fits really well."

Smith can be fiery like his father but not as theatrical as Patsos. His players noticed.

"Very different" than Patsos, Junior guard Eric Laster said with a laugh.

The Greyhounds will get a chance to catch up with their former coach when Siena comes to Baltimore the day after Thanksgiving in the first of a home-and-home series between the schools.

"It's going to be a spectacle. I know Jimmy knows a lot of people in this area; he did a great, great job of putting Loyola back on the map and making us respectable," G.G. Smith said.

The game against Texas Tech will have a different type of atmosphere, more like a family reunion, reminiscent of when Tubby Smith was in his first year at Kentucky and had to face his son, then a junior at Georgia. Tubby Smith thinks it could be more difficult for him than his now 37-year-old son.

"When he played for Georgia, when I was coaching Kentucky, he wasn't really playing against me, he was playing against his brother [Saul]. Now you're matching wits with your son, and it feels a little different right now." Tubby Smith said. "I'm a little more nervous than I usually am."

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