Loyola men’s basketball squad eating up competition early in season

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Zach Wrightsil
Zach Wrightsil is a mutil-time NAIA All-American for the Loyola Wolf Pack.

Five up and five down.

That is the mantra for Loyola men’s basketball thus far in the 2021-22 season.

The Wolf Pack have won all five games played, including an exhibition with an NCAA program in the University of New Orleans.

The other victories came over North American University, Xavier, Dillard and LSU-Shreveport.

That, in itself, is impressive.

What is even more impressive is that Loyola has done it as a team without a home.

Damage to “The Den” from Hurricane Ida has knocked the Wolf Pack out of its home facility.

Loyola has not played a home game yet and will not do so at least until sometime in mid to late December, possibly by the beginning of the new year.

Instead of taking a woe-is-me approach, the Wolf Pack have a no excuses approach, bonding together to play outstanding in all phases.

The success is not a surprise.

Loyola was ranked fifth in the nation in the preseason NAIA rankings.

In his eighth season as head coach, Stacy Hollowell has done a superb job, improving recruiting and play on the floor on an annual basis.

Loyola has been to three consecutive NAIA national tournaments.

Last season, Loyola achieved a milestone, reaching the national quarterfinals for the first time since 1946.

Hollowell served as an assistant under pervious head coach and athletic director Mike Giorlando and took over as head coach when Giorlando stepped away to enter private business in 2014.

This year’s Wolf Pack are a seasoned, experienced, deep, talented team.

All discussions about Loyola start with a pair of three-time All Americans in seniors Zach Wrightsill and Myles Burns.

Wrightsill was a force in an 80-72 win over the University of New Orleans at Lakefront Area on Nov. 6, scoring 26 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.

Burns has continued his fine play from a year ago when he averaged 16.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and a block per game while shooting 36 percent from 3-point range.

Speaking on All Access on NASH ICON, 106.1 FM Monday evening, Hollowell praised his team, starting with his two All-Americans.

“I would expect that they would be All-Americans again this year,” Hollowell said. “Myles Burns is a three-time defensive player of the year. The amazing thing is those guys have another year to play if they choose to do so. Both are very talented, both are athletic, long and rangy. They defend hard and can impact the game in a number of different ways.”

Senior Terry Smith Jr. has been solid while senior Andrew Fava scored a team-high 15 points in a win at Xavier.

Sophomore Brandon Davis has been a key addition, a transfer from Delgado. Davis has already earned Southern States Athletic Conference Player of the Week honors this season. Davis had 24 points in a win over LSU-Shreveport and he scored 21 points in a victory over Dillard.

Josh Leaney led the Wolf Pack with 24 points in a season-opening 134-56 thrashing of North American University.

Junior Cameron Dumas, a Xavier transfer has given Loyola even more depth.

Junior Zach Muller and junior Eddie Burgess are prime contributors as well, along with junior Jalen Galloway and sophomore Milan Mejia.

“We added Brandon Davis who is a local guy from East St. John who played at Delgado,” Hollowell said. “He is a really nice addition to our program. He takes care of the ball, steady under pressure, calm and can shoot it. He can get to the basket and he creates for others and we added Jalen Galloway, an All-American from the College of Idaho and he can stretch the floor for us.”

Depth is clearly an asset for Loyola.

“It has been a complete team effort,” Hollowell said. “I would say, at this point, that we’re probably 11 or 12 deep. LSU-Shreveport was No. 6 in the nation when we beat them, Xavier is a top 25 team and Dillard is right there. UNO is an NCAA Division I team.”

It has been a season of adversity.

“When Hurricane Ida hit, we picked up and went to Dallas for 10 days and we started getting after it from the beginning,” Hollowell said. “The effort has been really good and our kids’ will to win has been very high and this may be the best group I’ve had in terms of maturity, setting personal desire aside for the betterment of our team.”

The success, thus far, is a direct result of players buying in on playing as a team.

“We have guys that have been around for a while that know the system that we’re playing in and we’ve added a couple of pieces that are selfless and have fit seamlessly with our group,” Hollowell said.

Loyola returns to action in Mobile Tuesday night against Spring Hill before opening SSAC play at Middle Georgia State on Thursday in what will be a very tough conference.

“We’ve added Talladega, a top 10 team last year,” Hollowell said. “They’ve added Division I transfers. Stillman returns everybody from a Sweet 16 team. Faulkner will be very good. William Carey, whom we had to play five times due to COVID cancellations last year, will be very good. I’m thinking we have at least five teams that are national tournament-worthy in our league and could be as many as seven.”

With its win over an NCAA team in UNO, Loyola still has two games remaining to NCAA programs at Southern Miss and at the University of Louisiana (Lafayette).

“Those guys have been good to us over the years and it’s a challenge for our kids,” Hollowell said. “They get to kind of test their skill against high level competition. At the same time, it’s a little bit of a fundraiser for us, we’ve able to put some money in the bank for our program. It’s kind of a win-win for everybody.”

The Wolf Pack hope to be back home on campus playing soon.

“The only thing we’ve really missed is open gym time where guys can go shoot on their own,” Hollowell said. “They’ve rolled with it. So far, so good. We have a court in there now and some things just need to come together for us in terms of clean-up and prepared to play there. I would think that we’re able to play games there, hopefully in December. Just hoping for the best.”

While Hollowell has had very good teams at Loyola, this team could be his best yet.

“I don’t think there’s any question about it,” Hollowell said. “We’ve got a group with a real emphasis on winning at all costs. They want to be great. They want to go undefeated. It’s certainly our most talented group in terms of being able to get at the rim and being able to stretch the floor and shoot the ball. I’m really excited about lies ahead. Things have to line up but we can make a deep run.”

The Wolf Pack are on the prowl and hungry for more.

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