As a teenager, Pat Spencer followed men's lacrosse standouts like Matt Danowski and Steele Stanwick and tried to emulate their games. Now a freshman attackman at Loyola Maryland, Spencer is being compared to them.
Labeled the best rookie in Division I, Spencer has scored 71 points on 30 goals and 41 assists. The Davidsonville resident and Boys' Latin graduate has tied the Greyhounds' Division I record for points, set a freshman record for assists, and ranks fifth in the program's record book for assists in a single season.
Spencer is the undisputed offensive leader of a Loyola team that captured the Patriot League tournament championship for the second time in three years, earned the No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament, and will welcome Duke (11-7) to a first-round contest at Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore on Saturday at 12 p.m.
CBS Sports Network analyst Evan Washburn, who covered Spencer's Patriot League tournament final-record 10 points in a 14-6 rout of Army on May 1, said Spencer at this stage may be better than Stanwick, the 2011 recipient of the Tewaaraton Award, college lacrosse's version of the Heisman Trophy.
"He's as good an attackman as I've seen personally this year," said Washburn, a former Delaware defenseman. "There's no visible flaw to his game, and he just keeps getting better at this point of the season, which is something you don't often see with young guys. Usually they tend to hit a wall as we go and at times, they're overwhelmed by the moment. But in a championship moment, he was at his best."
A freshman attackman has not been named a first-team All American since Syracuse's Mike Powell in 2001, but ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra said Spencer should break that drought when the All-American teams are publicized in a few weeks.
"You don't see that type of player with the poise and versatility as a freshman attackman," said Carcaterra, a former Syracuse midfielder. "He's a lot like Mikey Powell. Mikey could dodge, he could feed, and Pat Spencer does all of that. We're in an era where kids are playing a ton of lacrosse and there's less structure. The whole concept of the quarterback-attackman is almost a dying breed, and this kid is a quarterback-attackman times 10. He's a total stud."
Bouquets like those from Washburn and Carcaterra are increasing in frequency, but Spencer said he pays little mind to the accolades.
"I try not to let that stuff get to my head," he said. "I know my parents and my grandparents love that and all of the exciting stuff that goes with it, but to me, it's more about winning championships. That's my main goal, getting to Final Four weekend and just having a shot to play in the championship. All the accolades that go with it are cool and very nice, and I enjoy hearing them, but at the same time, that's not what I play for."
As explosive as the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Spencer has been, he flew under the radar at Boys' Latin where he stood 5-6 and 150 pounds as a sophomore and did not make varsity until his junior year. Spencer said he entertained the idea of going to Villanova or Fairfield, but Loyola was the only program that seriously recruited him.
"I guess you could say I was overlooked," he said. "So Loyola took a shot with me, and really, they were my only top-tier Division I school. So that made it pretty easy for me."
Composure is the word most frequently used by observers and opponents when describing Spencer. Despite being shadowed by teams' top defensemen, Spencer almost seems to enjoy burying a shoulder into an opponent to create space for a shot or to find a teammate for a higher-percentage attempt.
Greyhounds coach Charley Toomey can understand the habit of comparing Spencer to Stanwick or former Loyola star Justin Ward, who scored 71 points in 2014. But Toomey said he doesn't engage in that kind of talk.
"We want Pat Spencer," he said. "We know what he brings to the table, and as he gets older, we're going to do more things with him like letting him move to the middle of the field and letting him dodge from different areas. … I believe the sky's the limit for Pat. He's got to stay injury-free, he's got to continue to work hard in school, and he's got to just make sure that he continues to be the person that he is, and what that guy is, he's a guy that loves practice. He eats, breathes and sleeps lacrosse and athletics, and he loves it. It's been fun to watch his development."
The Tewaaraton Foundation recently whittled down a list of candidates for the award to 25, and Spencer was not among the names. Carcaterra said the omission is a mistake.
"This kid is special," he said. "People overuse that word, but he has a really good shot at being the best player in school history. I think he's at minimum a second-team All-American, and I think he should be a Tewaaraton Top 25 nominee. I don't know why he's not. I wouldn't be surprised if he went on a little run and then deserved to be a Tewaaraton finalist. He's that good."