Tag Archives: Gene Sullivan

The 25 Best Loyola Men’s Basketball Teams of All Time: Part 2 (#16-#20)

The countdown of the top 25 Loyola men’s basketball teams of all time continues. The previous teams in the countdown are here.

No. 20

The 1981-82 Loyola Ramblers:  Four NBA Draft Picks, Lost in Conference Final

17-12, 8-4 Midwest City (3rd Place)

Sullivan won 149 games as head coach from 1980-1989

Gene Sullivan’s second season at Loyola resulted in his first of four winning seasons in a row, and the second among seven winning conference seasons in a row.  The 1981-82 team featured two future NBA players and third round and fourth round NBA picks.

The Ramblers lost to #10 Minnesota by one point, and Illinois by four points.  They beat Northwestern, SIU, Creighton, and Northern Illinois; the Ramblers beat both Xavier and Butler x3 (home, road, and neutral in the conference tournament).  It was a great season, but the Ramblers couldn’t get past Evansville, who beat Loyola at home, on the road, and in the final of the conference tournament by the score of 81-72. 

Wayne Sappleton averaged 22.0 points and 13.0 rebounds per game (second in the nation in rebounding for the second year in a row), and earned a 2nd round NBA pick by the New Jersey Nets.  Point guard Darius Clemons, who set a Loyola career assists record of 703 assists and scored 1610 points in four years, was drafted in the fourth round of the NBA Draft by the San Diego Clippers. Alfredrick Hughes (1st round in 1985) and Andre Battle (3rd round 1985) were freshmen on that team averaging 17.0 ppg and 7.7 ppg respectively.

No. 19

The 1977-78 Loyola Ramblers:  Big Game Performers with Road Woes

16-11 Overall

How could a 16-11 team be picked as one of the Top 20 teams at Loyola?  Well, when you beat Minnesota (with future NBA star Kevin McHale), Indiana State (with future NBA legend Larry Bird), #2 Marquette (the defending national champion), and #14 Georgetown, you get known as a pretty strong team.

NBA 1st Round Pick Larry Knight

The ’78 Ramblers had future NBA player Andre Wakefield, NBA first round draft pick Larry Knight, 6’8 center Houston Lloyd, and 6’8’ forward Rod Callihan.  All of them averaged in double figure points, and for the time they were an very tall team that shared the ball better than most teams with big men.

Unfortunately, the ’78 Ramblers didn’t travel well. Loyola was 5-8 on the road, dropping contests at Wisconsin (second to last in the Big 10), Valpo, and Ohio University.  The ’78 Ramblers also lost two home games to opponents they should have beaten for a shot at postseason, Toledo and Bradley.

No. 18

The 2018-19 Loyola Ramblers:  Conference Champs, NIT First Round

20-14, 12-6 Missouri Valley Conference (tied for 1st Place)

Clayton Custer, Cam Krutwig, Coach Moser, and
Marques Townes led the 2019 Ramblers. Photo: Chicago Magazine

Coming off their Final Four season, the Ramblers were adjusting to the loss of Aundre Jackson, Donte Ingram, and Ben Richardson while trying to integrate Tate Hall, Cooper Kaifes, and Aher Uguak into the rotation.  Loyola tied with Drake atop the MVC with a 12-6 record, and therefore earned an automatic bid to the NIT.

The MVC was having a down year—Loyola’s 131 KenPom ranking was tops in the league.  The Ramblers only had four games against Top 100 Ken Pom teams all year—a last-second home loss to Furman (KenPom 59) and blowout losses to Nevada, Maryland, and Creighton (in the postseason NIT).  A better schedule might have helped the Ramblers overcome the weakness of the MVC that season, but an injury to Lucas Williamson (LUC was 10-8 in the 18 games he missed) and some blowout losses to not-so-great teams (a 67-48 loss at last place Evansville and a 70-35 thrashing at Missouri State) sank the KenPom.

Bradley upset the Ramblers 53-51 in the Semifinals at Arch Madness, and Loyola was assigned to visit Creighton in the NIT– where their 70-61 loss was not as close as the score.  Marques Townes won the Larry Bird MVC Player of the Year award, giving the top individual player award in the conference to a Rambler for the second straight year.

No. 17

The 2006-07 Loyola Ramblers: High Expectations Not Quite Met

21-11, 10-6 Horizon League (3rd Place)

This was the Loyola team we thought was going to go to the tournament. They were preseason favorites in the Horizon League, and senior Blake Schilb was named preseason Player of the Year.  Everybody was back from the 19-win team the year before, including J.R. Blount and Leon Young who had been so impressive as freshmen. But something else showed up—the injury bug and the sophomore slump.

(L-R) Blake Schilb, Kye Pattrick, Majak Kou, Tom Levin, and Brandon Woods surround team chaplain Sr. Jean Dolores Schmidt

Team leader Blake Schilb got banged up and missed a game after only playing 15 minutes in a loss to Youngstown State. Young missed six games and was plagued by injuries the rest of his career. Blount was one of only four Ramblers who played in every game, but his field goal percentage fell from .459 to .408.  Majak Kou’s points edged up with more minutes as a full time starter, but his rebounds, steals, assists, and made threes declined.

Toward the end of the season, things started to fall into place, however. Loyola won eight of nine games going into their Horizon League tournament semifinal against #18 Butler. The Ramblers had defeated #15 Butler a week and a half earlier at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler and Loyola split two OT games during the regular season, and the third OT game was neck and neck again when Loyola had a chance to win, inbounding the ball with a tick or two left, and Blount wasn’t able to get a shot to go. The final was 67-66.

Loyola finished the year with a KenPom of 84, higher than several NIT at large teams. If the Ramblers had defeated Saint Louis at home (a game they gave away in the final minute with a turnover), or beat Butler in either of their two OT losses, an NIT invite or better would have been likely.  The 2006-07 Ramblers were the only Loyola team to win 20 games OR win 10 conference games for a 30-year span between 1985 and 2015, so they were an important team for the die-hard fans who suffered through a long, excruciating postseason drought.

No. 16

The 1979-80 Loyola Ramblers:  Jerry Lyne’s Magnum Opus

19-10, 5-0 Midwest City (1st Place)

Coach Jerry Lyne’s final season and the Ramblers’ first season in the newly-formed Midwest City Conference resulted in a postseason bid, as Loyola was tabbed for the NIT after losing the conference tournament final to Oral Roberts. 

Coach Jerry Lyne was the assistant who took over as head coach in 1975.

Senior shooting guard Leroy Stampley led Loyola with 20.2 points per game, while junior center Kevin Sprewer added 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds.  Stampley was drafted in the fourth round of the 1980 NBA Draft, and Sprewer went in the sixth round of the ’81 Draft.  Sophomore point guard Darius Clemons scored 15.6 ppg while averaging 4.0 assists per game.   

Loyola beat MVC Champ Bradley twice (at home and at a neutral site) and beat MVC runner-up Creighton at home. Add wins over A-10 Champ Rutgers, and top MAC teams: Bowling Green, Western Michigan, and Northern Illinois. But when it came to the future Great Midwest teams, Loyola had trouble—two fairly close losses to Top 10 ranked DePaul, a loss to Marquette, and a loss to Cincinnati.

These days, a regular season conference championship locks up an NIT bid, even if the team falters in the conference tournament.  My estimated KenPom ranking for this team was 110, based on the offensive and defensive team ranking and schedule strength.  It was the first year of the fledgling Midwestern City Conference (Loyola, Butler, Evansville, Xavier, Oklahoma City, Oral Roberts); the NCAA had a 32-team field that year.

Coach Lyne took over the team in 1975 and retired at the end of the 1979-80 season; this team marked his high water mark as head coach.

The countdown of the top 25 Loyola men’s basketball teams of all time continues in a few days with the teams ranked from 11 to 15. Comment on the Ramblermania Message Board.

Loyola Basketball’s Dark Years: The Beginning (1985-1990)

With Loyola basketball’s ascension to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 in 1985– before it was even known as the Sweet 16– the Ramblers ended a 17-year NCAA Tournament drought. They also served notice that Loyola was ready to take a prominent place in the Chicago-area college basketball scene.

The Dark Years

DePaul was the hot college team in town in the late 1970s and early 80s. The Blue Demons made the NCAA Tournament as an Independent team (not affiliated with a conference) in 1976 and for eight of the 10 years between 1976 and 1985. The highlights of that span were four Sweet 16 appearances, Elite Eight appearances in 1978 and 1979, a trip to the Final Four in 1979, and a #1 overall final AP ranking in 1980. The Blue Demons were in the middle of a 21-season streak of winning seasons against Division I competition running from 1974-75 to 1994-95.

Down in Champaign, the Illini mostly sleepwalked through the late 1960s and the 70s, but knocked Loyola out of the 1980 NIT, made the Sweet 16 in 1981, and reached the Elite Eight in 1984 for the first time since Loyola knocked them out of an Elite Eight matchup in the 1963 NCAA Tournament.

Loyola’s 1985 Sweet 16 run came as the Ramblers had been moving forward in college basketball in the early 80s, under the radar, mostly unnoticed in the shadow of DePaul and Illinois’ spotlight. Loyola, in large part behind the prolific scoring of Alfredrick Hughes, had seen their win total steadily rise four years in a row. By 1984-85, the Midwest City Conference regular season champions entered the NCAA Tournament with a 25-5 record, a 17-game winning streak, a #14 AP ranking, and an automatic bid as the conference tournament champion. The resume resulted in a 4 seed in the 1985 NCAA Tournament, well above DePaul’s 10 seed and just below the Illini’s 3 seed.

Not so surprisingly, the Ramblers won two games in the tournament and gave the defending champs all they could handle before bowing out. It was a huge year for Loyola, a signal of a program headed upward, and a statement that Loyola was a valid alternative to DePaul or Illinois for local Chicago talent. For Loyola fans, it was especially significant for Loyola to top DePaul’s performance in their first year under new head coach Joey Meyer.

The year after the Sweet 16, 1985-86, was going to be a rebuilding year, and everyone knew it. Alfredrick The Great, Andre Battle, and Greg Williams graduated, and took along with them 5,002 career points scored in their combined four years at Loyola. While at Loyola, the trio led the Ramblers to an 83-37 record in four consecutive winning seasons. Senior Carl “Go-Go” Golston led the ’86 Ramblers in scoring with 19.6 points per game. Andre Moore put up a solid junior season, averaging nearly a double-double with 17.6 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. But the loss of experience, mid-range shooting, and versatility was a bit too much, and the Ramblers slumped to a 13-16 season. On the heels of an NCAA Tournament appearance, Loyola drew 4270 per game in their last year at DePaul’s Alumni Hall.

Loyola played at Alumni Hall from 1984-1986.

DePaul’s Alumni Hall at Sheffield and Belden was the home court for the Ramblers in the mid-1980s. Photo: DePaul University

Expectations were sky-high in Rogers Park from the NCAA Tournament success after 1985. People were talking about an on-campus arena on landfill extending the campus into Lake Michigan. There was a buzz around campus. Recruiting picked up. Highly-touted 6’9″ center Kenny Miller from Morgan Park arrived in 1986 and sat out a season as a Proposition 48 player. Gerald Hayward (a 6’6” forward from Hyde Park) landed at Loyola right after the Sweet 16 appearance, and Sun-Times Chicago area player of the year Bernard Jackson transferred from Wichita State in 1985. Antowne Johnson (a high-scoring 6’6” center), and Keir Rogers (a strong and athletic shooting guard/small forward from Michigan City, Indiana) made an immediate impression in 1987. Keir Rogers’ teammate from Michigan City, Keith Gailes, arrived at the same time and began play in 1988 as a Prop 48.

Loyola played well in 1986-87, winning 16 games. Their 8-4 conference record was good enough for a tie with Evansville for the regular season title. Andre Moore averaged 20.6 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. Moore tied his own Loyola single-season record for blocks with 66, and set the school career record with 176. The Denver Nuggets selected Moore with the 31st pick in the 1987 NBA Draft. Bernard Jackson averaged 22.8 points per game to lead the Ramblers offensively. Late-season surging Xavier won the MCC Tournament that season, however, and also won an opening round game in the NCAA Tournament. It was the third NCAA Tournament berth ever for Xavier, and the second NCAA bid in what would become a string of six straight tournament appearances for the Musketeers. No one could have imagined it would be 15 years before Loyola would have another winning season.

The International Amphitheater in Chicago

The International Amphitheater at 4220 S. Halsted in Chicago. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Great performances by newcomers and some impressive recruiting led to an super-high hopes for the 1987-88 season. Loyola would move to a new, exclusive home court: the historic and absurdly-inconvenient International Amphitheater at 4220 S. Halsted Avenue. It was a venue that hosted five major-party political conventions (Republicans in 1952 and 1960, Democrats in 1952, 1956, and 1968) and two NBA franchises in its history. Loyola would be an anchor tenant in the arena’s revitalization. But the Amphitheater was next to the long-gone Union Stockyards on the South Side, 1.7 miles from the closest El station (35th & Dan Ryan), and 15.7 miles from Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus.

Kenny Miller

Kenny Miller had a successful pro career after leaving Loyola.

Despite having phenomenal talent in 1987-88, the Ramblers finished below .500 at 13-16. Junior Gerald Heyward finished fourth nationally in points per game at 26.1, behind only Hershey Hawkins, Darren Queenan, and Anthony Mason. Freshman Kenny Miller led all rebounders in the NCAA with 13.6 per game and 395 boards overall, while adding 14.7 points per game… as a FRESHMAN. The Ramblers also had promising performers like freshman Keir Rogers (3.1 ppg, eventually one of Loyola’s top-10 scorers), junior Antowne Johnson (8.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg), and redshirt junior guard Keith Carter (11.7 ppg, 5.7 assists per game) set to return for 1988-89.

1987-88 Rebound leaders

Loyola’s Kenny Miller led the nation in rebounds in 1987-88.

Yet even with some pretty good basketball and attendance draws like UIC, Northwestern, Cincinnatti, and Bradley, the move to the Amphitheater resulted in a 21% attendance drop from the previous season at the UIC Pavilion. Loyola’s average home attendance fell to 2601 per game, falling below 3000 for the first time since 1980-81.

At the beginning of the 1988-89 season, Kenny Miller and 6’4″ junior guard Tim Bankston were ruled academically ineligible. At first, Miller said he would stay at Loyola and try to regain eligibility. A year and a half later, under time pressure and family tragedies, he was still trying. Without Miller, Loyola had no starters taller than 6’6”.

Early into the conference season, on Jan. 12, 1989, Loyola beat Xavier to move to 2-1 in conference and 6-7 overall. The following day, Friday the 13th, the university ruled center Antowne Johnson and Gerald Heyward academically ineligible by Loyola academic standards (but not by the more lenient NCAA standards applicable to most other Division I schools). Johnson and Heyward averaged a combined 41.6 points and 20.6 rebounds per game. Both players were in their last year of eligibility, so the decision effectively ended their college basketball careers. Heyward scored 1264 career points at Loyola, and Johnson notched 362 rebounds in one full season and parts of two others. Their departures left the Ramblers with only six available scholarship players and two walk-ons. Newcomer Keith Gailes got plenty of playing time and made the most of it, averaging 22.5 points per game in the first of his three seasons at Loyola; he finished his career in 1991 as the school’s second-highest career scorer. Attendance fell again in 1988-89, from 2601 the first year in the 9,000-seat International Amphitheater to only 1918 per game. Squabbles with the Amphitheater over amenities, attendance, and contract disputes spilled over into articles in the newspaper.

When Chuck Schwarz was hired as Athletic Director in 1988, he was ready and willing to make big changes in the athletic department. By the end of the 1988-89 season, advisers who supported higher academic standards than the NCAA were holding sway in counseling Loyola University President Fr. Raymond Baumhart, S.J.. Fr. Baumhart had been Loyola President since 1970, and was not known for his interest or support for athletics. In March 1989, Coach Gene Sullivan was let go after establishing a 149-114 record at Loyola. On May 1, 1989 Will Rey, a top assistant at Evansville, was hired to take over the reins at Loyola. He beat out very popular former Loyola assistant Doug Bruno for the position.

All through the late 1980s, Loyola played top competition and won their fair share of big games:

  • Nov. 30, 1985 Loyola beats #15 N.C. State, 60-58
  • Dec. 28, 1986 Loyola beat #9 Illinois, 83-82
  • Dec. 7, 1988 Loyola beat Wisconsin, 90-76
  • Jan. 21, 1989 Loyola beat DePaul, 70-69

Yet the number of wins and the team’s winning percentage shrunk each year as the 80s wound to a close. After rebounding to 16 wins and a tie for the conference regular season title in 1986-87, the Ramblers sank to 13 wins in 1987-88, 11 in 1988-89, and only 7 in 1989-90 (Will Rey’s first season).

The former Midwest City Conference was undergoing changes, too. The name was changed to Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1985-86. In 1988-89, Dayton was added to replace Oral Roberts, which had dropped out of the conference to go Independent. The following year, the league would add Marquette, giving the Midwestern Collegiate Conference an impressive membership roster for the 1989-90 season: Butler, Dayton, Detroit, Evansville, Loyola, Marquette, Saint Louis, and Xavier.

Loyola basketball began the 1989-90 season with a new, first-time head coach at yet another new venue, the Rosemont Horizon. The Horizon was the fourth different home court in a five-year period, which included the indignity of playing at the on-campus home courts of UIC and DePaul. The team had been cleared of any players with marginal academics, and players were now held to a higher academic standard than most other schools. New leadership, new recruiting priorities, and stronger competition in the conference would test the strength of the athletic program and the school’s commitment to athletics.

Spoiler alert: It gets darker.

To be continued.