Loyola beat Indiana State 88-76 on Wednesday night for its 27th straight victory at Gentile Arena, its seventh win in nine games this season and a 1-0 start to its final Missouri Valley Conference campaign before a jump to the Atlantic 10 next fall.
Half an hour after the buzzer, 30-year-old rookie coach Drew Valentine was on the phone ticking off a lengthy list of the areas in which he wants to improve.
“I can be better at scouting, coaching my staff, communicating with players, offensive sets, going 2-for-1, calling a timeout, communicating with recruits,” he said. “So many areas, but that’s what I’m feeling really optimistic about, because we’re having success already. But not great success, because we lost two games in the Bahamas.”
That the Ramblers did — to Michigan State by a bucket and to Auburn by nine points before closing the Battle 4 Atlantis with a resounding 18-point win over Arizona State. All things considered, it was a fine showing.
All things considered, the Ramblers wouldn’t even have been there if not for their enormous success since Valentine — older brother of ex-Bull Denzel — joined former coach Porter Moser’s staff before the 2017-18 season. The Final Four run in 2018 wouldn’t have happened without Valentine, who coordinated the team’s defense. Last March’s second-round win against Illinois wouldn’t have happened, either. The Ramblers dominated that game on the defensive end.
Does Valentine wish to be another Moser? No. He aims to be even better. Moser had Rick Majerus as a mentor. Valentine had Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, for whom he worked as a graduate assistant, and Oakland’s Greg Kampe, who’s nearing 650 wins at the Michigan school where Valentine played in two NCAA Tournaments.
Valentine, of course, also has Moser, who set the bar higher than high. But Valentine believes he can clear it. His age is, he submits, a good thing that will lead to closer relationships with players and recruits. His age might be showing when he speaks of beating the Michigan States and Auburns, competing for five-star recruits and winning national titles, but who doesn’t want their coach swinging for the fences?
Valentine is psyched for Saturday’s game against 6-0 DePaul at Wintrust Arena.
“It’s going to mean a lot for our fan base, for our alumni and for the city, quite frankly, to have two teams playing in the city this competitive and doing what they’re doing,” he said. “I think it’s really exciting.”
He’s backing new Blue Demons coach Tony Stubblefield, too.
“One thing about us being first-year coaches — we’re also first-year minority coaches,” he said. “Historically, minority coaches don’t get a lot of opportunities at high-level schools for their first [head] jobs. I’m always going to root for Stubbs.”
Just not on Saturday. City pride is at stake.