Erik Etherly powers Loyola to winningest season

Erik Etherly knows something about renewing old relationships. Though too young to remember the details of his parents' divorce when he was a year old, the Loyola University basketball player is still amazed at the fact that they remarried when he was 14.

"How many people do that?" Etherly, now 21, said this week, a sense of disbelief evident in his voice.

The impact those events had on Etherly, who had lived with his mother in East Lansing, Mich., until they moved back in with his father in Northern Virginia, played a factor, at least subconsciously, when he decided to transfer to Loyola from Northeastern University in Boston after his freshman year.

In doing so, Etherly renewed his relationship with Greyhounds coach Jimmy Patsos, who had recruited him out of Annandale High.

"I think it did play a role," Etherly said of how his personal life and basketball career intertwined in his decision-making. "To me, it showed how when you get a second chance at something, it can work out for the greater good of all. I am definitely appreciative of Jimmy taking me back after I had turned him down."

It has worked wonders for both player and coach — and has helped revive the Loyola basketball program that had failed to build on the back-to-back winning seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08.

Etherly, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward, has flourished at a position — power forward — that caused him to pick Northeastern in the first place after he was promised he could play more on the wing for the Huskies than inside, where he had played in high school and where Patsos now uses him.

A redshirt junior, Etherly recently became the first Loyola player since Gerald Brown to be named first-team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

"I'm very grateful to be first-team All-MAAC. It's one of those goals that I set from Day One coming to Loyola aside from a lot of team goals," Etherly said. "It's definitely something that benefited me, making the move here to Loyola. The coaching staff is great. They're behind you 120 percent. With the team we have here, it wasn't too hard to get to that point because it's easy to play well when you have great players around you."

The Greyhounds, who had never won more than 19 games in any of their previous 29 seasons as a Division I team, are 21-8 going into the MAAC tournament this weekend in Springfield, Mass. Loyola plays the winner of Friday's game between Niagara and Canisius on Saturday.

Lynese Etherly, who practices integrative medicine, said Friday that "Erik would not have become the player he is now without Jimmy pushing him as hard as he has." She also believes that her son wouldn't have turned out the way he has had she and her husband, Andre, who owns a technology company, not remarried. Lynese Etherly knew by Christmas of her only child's freshman year that he was unhappy in Boston.

"I think he chose Northeastern because he wanted to get away and he wanted to go to a bigger school," Lynese Etherly said Friday. "He knew they had played a slower style than Loyola and hoped they would change. Just because you make a bad decision doesn't mean you're stuck with it."

Ethlerly has spent the better part of two seasons proving Patsos right in where he wanted to use a player who this season leads the Greyhounds in rebounding (7.1 a game) and blocked shots (37 overall) and has been a more consistent scorer. Second behind fellow junior Dylon Cormier (Cardinal Gibbons) at a little more than 13 points a game, Etherly has scored in double figures 21 times.

"I really appreciate the effort he gives at the 4 [power forward], and he will be at the 4 again next year," Patsos said of Etherly, who hopes to graduate this summer and play as a graduate student next season. "He will be an inside player because those mismatches actually work. At Maryland, we had guys like Keith Booth and Rodney Elliott and Terence Morris. Gary [Williams] used to tell them, 'You've got the best spot in the game.' That's a stat-stuffer position, and he's done a great job with it."

Said Etherly, "I had played with my back to the basket throughout high school. I really wanted to play a different position. I knew coming back to Loyola that I would play the 4, but I've accepted it and I think I've done well playing it."

It wasn't a surprise that Etherly's best game of the season, and his career, came when he had 22 points and 10 rebounds in an 87-81 win over eventual MAAC champion Iona Feb. 10 at Reitz Arena. The victory, Loyola's seventh straight, gave the Greyhounds temporary possession of first place, though they relinquished it by losing at home to Fairfield two days later and then at Marist.

"We did put a lot into that Iona game. It was one of those times that when you get on a seven-game winning streak, what you do when you take that first loss after that winning streak is very crucial," Etherly said. "From having been on that kind of that of winning streak, you kind of forget how it is [to lose]. We kind of bounced back against BU [a 69-56 win over visiting Boston University on Feb. 19]. A lot of it was in our own minds: We were trying to get to 20 wins. We kind of overthought a lot of things."

Etherly said the Greyhounds are taking a different approach to the MAAC tournament.

"There's nothing to lose, there's everything to gain," Etherly said after practice Tuesday. "We know that if we win [the tournament], obviously, we're going to the NCAA tournament. If we lose, it's in the hands of whatever other tournament we're going to get into. I think the best thing we've done this year is thrive off [being] the underdog. I think everything happens for a reason. There's [a] reason we finished second and not in first. I think [that what's] driven us to 21 wins this year, more than the talent, is the drive to prove people wrong."

Ethlerly said the Greyhounds are strictly focused "on Saturday" and are not thinking about the possibility of making the school's second NCAA tournament appearance, the first since 1994. He also understands that there might be something of an empty feeling if they fall short.

"I wouldn't go and say we wouldn't be satisfied with anything short of that, but a lot about this season would be forgotten in our minds without that NCAA bid," he said, "minus the fact that we set the school record for wins. I think we would feel that we fell a little bit short, but I don't think we'd feel unaccomplished."

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