When thinking about college basketball in the state of Maryland, the Terrapins are the first point of discussion.
But to the northeast of College Park is the Greater Baltimore area, and if you look deeper, there’s a hotbed of mid-majors that all bring distinct qualities to the forefront. UMBC recently has made the biggest impact, beating a No. 1 seed and defeating every Twitter foe in sight. There’s also Towson, a program that’s improved over the past decade, arena included. And then there’s HBCU’s Coppin State and Morgan State, both of which hold rich histories and undeniable culture.
Nestled within the commute between Towson and Morgan State is also Loyola University of Maryland. Known for its premier soccer and lacrosse program, the Greyhounds are poised to return to prominence on the hardwood. Eight years since their last NCAA Tournament appearance, second-year coach Tavaras Hardy is looking to exceed expectations and build a program that’s returning with a loaded roster.
During his first season, the Greyhounds finished seventh in a tough Patriot League where six different teams were two games or fewer from being in the top four in the conference.
Looking back at his his first year, Hardy noticed that he inherited a group of resilient guys. On a personal level, he truly learned first-hand on how to manage the aspects of being a Division I basketball coach and through that growth, Hardy is excited about his second year.
And from the roster Loyola has, he should be. With an already solid group of players, he’s adding to the existing core.
“I don’t believe in the model of getting out the old guys and getting your own guys in,” Hardy said. “I have a committed group that’s bought into what we are doing.”
In terms of the returning Greyhounds, it starts with senior guard Andrew Kostecka.
Last season Kostecka led the Patriot League in points and steals per game, and was named to the all-league first team and all-defensive team. The senior was the only player in Division I to have scored more than 625 points and post 80-or-more steals last season. He’s so well rounded that he’s only one of two players in Patriot League history to average 20-plus points, 4.5-plus rebounds, 2.0-plus steals and 2.0-plus assists in a season.
The other player? NBA All-Star and former Lehigh standout C.J. McCollum.
“A lot of his accolades come from the fact that’s he always going,” Hardy said, and teased that there’s reason to expect more.
“He’s become even a more complete all-around player.”
Alongside Kostecka is senior forward Chuck Champion, who started 30 out of 32 games last season and racked up the second-most minutes of playing time last season. Running point for the Greyhounds is junior Isaiah Hart, and although his size (5’11’’) might be a disadvantage on paper, his on-court performance is different. Junior forward Brent Holcombe will be returning with an extra pep in his step after missing 20 games last season. He was the second-leading scorer after Kostecka when on the floor.
Loyola has an experienced roster returning but Hardy is not done. A known recruiter and player developer, he calls his first class of recruits a home run.
It starts with two Spanish recruits in Golden Dike and Santi Aldama. Dike has played for the Spanish National Team at the age-group level since 2013. More recently, he was a member of the Spanish team at the 2019 FIBA U-18 European Championships that won gold. Aldama was the MVP of the tournament and finished the competition with four straight games of 19 or more points scored. Just like Dike, he’s been involved with the Spanish basketball program from a young age.
Hardy credits assistant coach Ivo Simovic for the two additions. Before coaching in the USA, Simovic was an assistant and head coach for the U-18 and U-18 national teams in Spain, and during that time, he came into contact with Dike and Aldama.
The additions do not stop there. Pat Spencer was a legendary lacrosse player for Loyola. His athleticism was so great, that he’s now playing for Northwestern in basketball as a grad transfer. But for the Greyhounds, there’s a new Spencer in town.
Cam Spencer is now a Greyhound and was one of the best high school players from the Baltimore area. He was named The Baltimore Sun’s All-Metro First Team and the USA Today All-Maryland Second Team after an explosive senior year when he averaged 25 points per game and shot over 50 percent from the field. After hearing the buzz, Hardy said he saw what he needed to see in Spencer.
With the great roster comes with great expectations but Hardy is focused on the next step. During his first year, he was focusing on building a great foundation. Now that it’s established, his Greyhounds will be looking to improve from their 7-11 record in Patriot League play.
His team will have a chance to show their worth early during non-conference play with games against Marquette, Old Dominion, George Mason, and VCU.
To sum things up, Coach Hardy embraces the journey.
“If we enjoy that journey together, great things will happen for us.”