Defending national champion Loyola still going strong despite major changes

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Jalen Galloway

You could make a case that the 2021-22 Loyola University basketball team had the best season of any college basketball team at any level.

NAIA National Champions!

37-1 record!

Those are serious accomplishments by the Wolf Pack but with success comes movement.

Head coach Stacy Hollowell (NAIA National Coach of the Year) is now on staff at Ole Miss.

Zach Wrightsil (NAIA National Player of the Year) and Myles Burns (Chuck Taylor MVP Award winner) graduated.  Both are playing at Division I programs as graduate transfers—Wrightsil at Marquette and Burns at Ole Miss.  Point guard Brandon Davis, who was named Honorable Mention NAIA All American, transferred to Texas State.

With those loses, one should expect a major slippage in the fortunes of the basketball program at 6363 St. Charles Avenue.

Think again.

Loyola stands at 13-2 overall and a perfect 8-0 in Southern States Athletic Association (SSAC) competition after a 65-61 win last Saturday over Talladega in a rematch of last season’s national finalists.

The new man leading “The Pack” is native New Orleanian Donald Reyes—a first-time head coach but someone who has lots of experience on benches doing the important behind-the-scenes jobs that separate the solid programs from the floundering ones.

“I’ve always been an advocate of bite off more than you can chew,” said Reyes. “I’ve paid my dues I’ve learned my lessons and I’ve never skipped a step along the way.  And this team has been a reflection of that.”

Reyes’ attitude is the reason he was not afraid to follow and continue this successful run at Loyola.

“This is my dream job.  I wanted to become a college basketball coach as close to home as possible.  You can’t get much closer than this and being a positive resource for collegiate students, men and women, has always been a dream of mine,” said Reyes.

The graduate of John Ehret High School was a student-manager at LSU during the John Brady-led run to the NCAA Men’s Final Four in 2006.  He served as a graduate assistant at Arkansas State and then seven seasons at Tulane as Director of Player Development, Director of Basketball Operations and Assistant to the Head Coach.  Reyes spent two years as an assistant at Bethune Cookman before moving to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi as Director of Basketball Operations.

Holder of a master’s in Sports Administration from Arkansas State, he gives a different perspective when listing his coaching influences – his mother (who passed away last year) and his experiences in life.

“The things I’ve had to overcome, being looked over, being asked to do the small things and understanding that if you take those seriously than the big things will be easy.  Is last year big shoes to follow?  Absolutely, but if you focus on the small stuff, the big things will be easy.”

Senior forward Jalen Galloway did lots of little things last season.  He started only 12-of-38 contests on the way to the championship as the first guy off the bench.  This season, the man who was named to the 2022 NAIA National Championship All-Tournament Team is the Wolfpack’s go-to-guy.

From Meridian, Idaho (a transfer from the College of Idaho), Galloway leads the Wolfpack in scoring (18.7) and rebounds (7.4).  He has been named Southern States Athletic Conference Player of the Week three times this season.

“I kind of took the back seat to a couple of guys but that was part of the goal if we wanted to win a championship last year.  This year I know my goal and we have guys coming off the bench like I did last year like Domanic Brown, Zach Muller and Brad Alcime.  It’s exciting to see guys coming off the bench doing what I did last year.”

Like Galloway, guard Milan Mejia has experienced a role change.  The senior from Baton Rouge averaged three points and one rebound off the bench last year.  This year, it’s 15 starts in 15 outings for Galloway, who averages 12.2 points and 4.3 rebounds.

Michael Harden is a senior guard from Lafayette, Louisiana who delivers speed and quickness while averaging 10.9 points, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals a contest.

The win over Talladega was the 21st consecutive win at home and the 25th straight in SSAC play.  The conference win streak includes a victory over eighth-ranked Faulkner State, in overtime on January 3rd.

But the question is, can they make it back-to-back national crowns?

“Sometimes you can get that championship hangover but Donald has come in here with fire and passion and reminded us what the ultimate goal is and not to go to sleep.” says Galloway.

Every day, Coach Reyes and the Wolf Pack glance at two national championship banners hanging in The Den from 1945 and 2022 while fast breaking toward Freret Street.  The coach isn’t thinking about winning it all in Kansas City again, and he is not surprised his first Loyola squad is performing at a winning level.

“We’ve shown in clutch situations when the game gets tight, we’re ready to lock in and make the right play at the right time.  It’s next man up.  All we got, is all we need.”

He added, “I do see the banners up there but I believe in the work, no short cuts.  If you take it day-to-day and put in the work, the banner will hang itself.”

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