John Feinstein: Loyola's Patsos Is Never Out of Character

By John Feinstein
Sunday, March 1, 2009

One minute, Jimmy Patsos's Loyola basketball team -- or, as he constantly refers to it, his "young team" -- was working down the clock for a final shot in a 75-75 game against Rider on Thursday night at Reitz Arena in Baltimore. Then, in an instant, the game was over and all hell was breaking loose.

With less than five seconds left, Loyola point guard Brian Rudolph, who had been superb getting to the basket all night, drove the lane and -- double-teamed -- forced up a shot that never had a chance. A scramble ensued, and Rider's Justin Robinson grabbed the ball and flipped it to midcourt, where Ryan Thompson picked it up in full stride with the clock ticking down.

Thompson steamed toward the hoop, leapt in the air and flipped the ball off the rim and through the basket, the buzzer sounding either just before or just after he released the ball. Both benches went crazy -- Rider celebrating, Loyola screaming that the basket shouldn't count. The referees consulted. The basket was good. Because the game wasn't televised, there was no replay to uphold or overturn their decision.

Game over.

Patsos ran to protest while the Rider players turned to the Loyola student section, taunting them with the latest obnoxious celebration tactic: the uniform pop, holding their jerseys up to say "look at us." As the handshake line formed, there were angry words. Someone threw a punch. Suddenly, players were all over the court pushing and pulling at one another as the coaches from both teams and a couple of overmatched security guards pulled them apart.

A full-scale riot was avoided. The Rider players left the court while the frustrated Loyola players waited, because there is only one staircase leading to the locker rooms.

"Right there," Patsos said, still pouring sweat, voice hoarse from shouting all night, "is our season in microcosm."

Young team. Young coach. A learning experience, no doubt, for all.

* * *

It has been five years now since Patsos left Maryland after 13 turbulent seasons working there under Gary Williams. He was a part of two Final Four trips and a national championship and was probably "fired" 569 times -- give or take -- for misdeeds committed on the court by the Terrapins.

Patsos was 37 when he arrived at Loyola, taking over a program that had won one game the previous season and 16 over the previous four seasons. He threw himself into the job with manic passion, following very much in the footsteps of his mentor at Maryland.

"Maybe I've tried to do too much at times," he said Thursday evening. "I love what I do; I love interacting with the students, talking to alumni, promoting, helping sell tickets, all of it. Gary was probably better at compartmentalizing than I am. He would sit down and say, 'Today we need to do this.' I tend to try to do 12 things at once."

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