BY TONI GINNETTI
Loyola’s initiation into the Missouri Valley Conference last season brought formidable challenges, but former Marshall star Milton Doyle ended up being named the best newcomer/freshman in the MVC.
Doyle, though, might be watching from the sidelines this season. A torn labrum in his right shoulder put his career on hold a week before practice opened.
‘‘He means a lot to our team,’’ Ramblers coach Porter Moser said. ‘‘He’s the one premier player we had. He led us in every statistical category last season.
‘‘But it gives an opportunity to someone else to step up. You have to think of it that way.’’
It’s always that way when injuries slow down a team’s timetable for improvement.
‘‘It was definitely hard at first because he’s a big part of the team,’’ forward Christian Thomas said of Doyle’s injury. ‘‘But we understand it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up.’’
If Doyle misses the season, Moser still will have four returning players who got extensive playing time in Loyola’s inaugural trip through the competitive MVC. But what he returns in experience with seniors Thomas and Joe Crisman and juniors Jeff White and Devon Turk, he will miss in overall size.
‘‘We’re deeper at the guard position, but we’re going to be small,’’ Moser said. ‘‘As it is, Milton was one of our best rebounders. He really used his length to rebound as a guard. We’ll have to do some things coaching-wise in terms of doubling the post and doing some different things.
‘‘If you’re smaller, you can’t let your opponent be comfortable. We use the [NFL’s Seattle] Seahawks as an example. They were the smallest team in the NFL, and they won the Super Bowl.’’
The Ramblers’ size will come from several newcomers, including 6-6 freshman Donte Ingram from Simeon and 6-7 junior-college transfer Montel James. Depth at guard will come from junior-college transfer Earl Peterson, who played with James at Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College, and freshman Ben Richardson.
‘‘We’re going to rely on at least three freshmen to play a lot of minutes,’’ Moser said. ‘‘I’d like to play more guys this year because we’re going to have to play harder and faster, so you can’t ride just six guys. We have to be tougher mentally and physically and better-conditioned [to play fast].’’
Loyola won four MVC games last season and another in the conference tournament.
‘‘When we came into the league, people probably questioned if we belonged,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘We took a lot of losses, but after we won our first tournament game, it gave us some confidence. It gives us a taste of what more we can accomplish.’’
‘‘I think the guys learned the degree of the competition, the focus you have to have on the road and how much they have to invest,’’ said Moser, a veteran of the MVC who played at Creighton and coached at Illinois State. ‘‘They got a taste of big-time basketball. When you walk into the Wichita State arena, you see it.
‘‘The Valley tournament was a learning experience for us, but we don’t need to be appreciative of the invite anymore. We need to be greedy about where we want to put our place on that rung.’’