Loyola features mix of proven returnees, exciting newcomers under second-year coach Reyes
“Talented but young.”
That’s the succinct description of this season’s Loyola University men’s basketball team by second-year head coach Donald Reyes.
“We’ll take some lumps early. Last year’s team was experienced and talented and they could get by because they were more disciplined,” he said. “This year’s group will probably have to take a loss or two to learn from it.”
Last year, Reyes was a rookie head coach who inherited a team full of players who experienced winning the NAIA National Championship in 2021-22. This season’s roster is comprised of five returnees, a recruiting class of five and a quartet of redshirts.
“The redshirts could have participated last year and had an impact. But we felt it was best for their individual growth that they redshirt and have a bigger opportunity this year,” said Reyes.
Leading Wolf Pack returnees are senior guard Milan Mejia and sophomore Leonard Jackson, who was a member of last year’s Southern States Athletic Conference All-Freshman Team. Jackson was joined as an all-freshman selection by Alex Hammond from McMain High School in New Orleans.
Reyes feels he could have been the league’s freshman of the year, but his numbers didn’t show it due to the experienced teammates last year.
“I’m extremely excited about Alex. I actually feel he has all-league, player-of-the-year potential.”
The 6-foot-9 Bradley Alcime returns after seeing action in 21 games last season and has the potential to be the league’s sixth man of the year.
Leading the recruiting class is freshman Kameron Johnson out of Archbishop Shaw High School. Johnson is an entertaining 5-9 guard who gave Loyola fans a glimpse of what’s in store in a season-opening victory over John Melvin with 14-points, 6-assists and 2-steals.
“He has the potential to become one of the all-time greats here at Loyola. He’s vetted and not afraid of anything. He’ll be our starting point guard.”
The transfers in the Wolf Pack recruiting class are 6-5 Braelee Albert from Dallas, Texas who walked across the street from Tulane. Prior to his time with the Green Wave, he started 9 games in the Southeastern Conference at Vanderbilt.
“He’s going to be all-league and all-American for us…when he’s ready,” says Reyes.
Julian Baldwin is an athletic, 6-8 forward who comes from East Central University. Reyes says he’ll bring needed athleticism, and the ability to block shots.
The redshirts will make an immediate impact. Zachary Lee is an athletic guard from Mansfield, Texas. Cameron Williams is a product of The Willow School who Reyes says will bring an energy the team lacked last year.
A preseason poll of coaches placed Loyola in a third-place tie with at third in the SSAC with Faulkner in the 13-team league. Mobile, with a host of returnees, is the preseason favorite.
“We’re thrilled to be named in that upper echelon of the league, but we know we have some work to do to show that we belong there to achieve our goals of winning the regular season, winning the conference tournament and making a run in the national tournament.”
The Wolf Pack received votes in the initial Coaches’ Top 25 Poll for a ranking of 38th in the nation.
This season’s Loyola squad will be successful because the coach learned a lot during a 24-7 season that produced regular season and conference tournament championships.
“No matter how much I wanted them to take on my thought process and mentality it takes their own time. They have to figure it out as a group. They need each other to win.”
The schedule is dotted with six opponents ranked in the Top 25. The 36-year-old coach says that is by design.
“We feel like we are one of the best teams in the country regardless of who we have coming in or returning. We want to give ourselves early challenges to show that the guys who were on the national title team are gone, but we are Loyola and we are here to stay.”
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