Jimmy Patsos will take his Siena basketball team Saturday night into Reitz Arena, where in eight seasons Patsos led Loyola Maryland from, the season before he arrived, a 1-27 laughingstock to an NCAA tournament team for the first time in nearly two decades.
Patsos already has returned Siena, a onetime power in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, to respectability. A year ago, after leaving Loyola following his ninth season, Patsos coached the Saints to a 20-18 record and the College Basketball Invitational postseason championship.
"Coming home, it will be weird, but it will be good," Patsos said during a recent trip to Baltimore.
Patsos said Hall of Fame coach Gary Williams, his former longtime boss at Maryland, advised him to take the Siena job "because it's the thing to do up there [for fans], like Ohio State was for him [before becoming Maryland's coach in 1989]. You're not going against the Ravens, the Orioles or the Terps."
After starting the 2014-15 season with a pair of eight-point losses to Massachusetts and Vermont, the Saints won at St. Bonaventure, 73-70, on Nov. 19. Saturday's game will be the first of a home-and-home series, with Loyola (3-3) playing in upstate New York next season.
"It's an interesting job, but it's a good job, though," Patsos said of Siena. "They really love basketball up there. Our regular-season home game against Monmouth [last season], we got 8,000 people. We get 11,000 when we play Albany. That's pretty good for a mid-major."
Patsos has maintained close ties with Loyola. When the Greyhounds went to Canada for a summer playing tour, coach G.G. Smith, a former assistant under Patsos, had his team practice at Siena's gym. Patsos said that he still texts with Loyola's president, Rev. Brian F. Linnane, and occasionally hears from athletic director Jim Paquette.
"We're all friends," Patsos said. "I love that place."
Loyola's move to the more academically stringent Patriot League last year played heavily in Patsos' decision to leave. By going to Siena, Patsos could remain in the MAAC.
"I think the MAAC's good for me," Patsos said. "I never would have left Loyola had we stayed in the MAAC. I just got a little nervous about the Patriot League. It's not really my forte. It's not like we didn't have smart kids at Loyola, but I like a full range of kids."
About half of Loyola's current roster played for Patsos, which will make the atmosphere for Saturday's game a little different.
"Everyone knows it's going to be a big game, since he's our old coach," said junior guard Eric Laster, who leads the Greyhounds in scoring (14.6 points per game). "We all want to show up [and play well]. It's going to be fun."
While he's at a new school, some things have stayed the same for the never-dull Patsos. With the Saints scheduled to play at Fresno State in the opening game of the CBI Championship series last season, Patsos said he changed the itinerary a bit.
"They said they had us for three days in Fresno. I said, 'You have us for one day. We're going to San Francisco" for the other two days, Patsos recalled. "They loved Haight-Ashbury. I dropped them at one end and made them walk for two hours. After two hours, they came back and said, 'Hey, Coach, you're pretty normal.' "