BALTIMORE, MD — It’s hard to say that only two and half weeks have made a season, but that’s what’s happening on Cold Spring Lane. After sitting out the first three months of the year with a knee injury, Santi Aldama has come to Baltimore and made a world of difference. The Greyhounds have won four of their last five games, and have the college basketball world buzzing.
During the summer of 2019, Aldama and his Loyola teammate Golden Dike won the U18 European Championships. Aldama won MVP of the tournament, averaging 18 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. The big schools started calling, but before the event he only had one Division I offer: Loyola’s. He accepted it long before all the national fame, and he wasn’t going to flip. The relationship, and compassion he felt from the Greyhound coaches and campus, were unlike any other.
He talked about that with Eurohopes back in May.
“I knew coach Ivo Simovic and I really like how he understands basketball and how he works with players. Then I visited Loyola (MD) and I realized it was the place where I wanted to be, I also spoke with coach Tavaras Hardy and we really see basketball in a similar way, I think we can achieve great things. I loved the city, the campus and the atmosphere too, so in the end I’ve thought this suits me better than any other place.”
Loyola had struggled mightily before his arrival. Back in December the Greyhounds won five in a row, but since Jan. 5 had lost 10 of 11. However, since Aldama debuted on Feb. 1, that streak has ended and the Greyhounds have won four of five.
Unsurprisingly, it’s been largely due to him.
During the offseason, Aldama underwent a knee surgery and Loyola waited until he was fully healthy for a return. Back on Feb. 1, he made his debut against Navy, scoring 11 points in 17 minutes off the bench.
11:13, 1H | Navy 15, @LoyolaHounds 14. Aldama knocks down his first collegiate three; he has five points, an assist and a blocked shot.— Loyola Men's BKB (@LoyolaMBB) February 1, 2020
@Stadium @PatriotLeagueTVhttps://t.co/lNcCEIsg3q@Patriot_Gameday #gohounds pic.twitter.com/FW8BjgMvhx
“Obviously, it was really exciting to have him back out on the court,” Loyola head coach Tavaras Hardy said at the time. “Kudos to our medical staff, our athletic trainers, our strength and conditioning coaches. They’ve done a great job with his plan and his rehab. He’s a serious kid. That’s what’s best about him. If you ask him to do something, he’s going to do it. And he’s been very diligent with his work and very diligent about the process. It’s good to see him experience some success tonight.”
Although he is only five games into his Greyhounds career, he looks like one of the best players in the Patriot League. On Sunday against league-leading Colgate he had 22 points and 8 rebounds. 15 of those points came off of threes. and performance helped Loyola pull a big upset with an 84-80 win.
15:59, 2H | @LoyolaHounds 50, Colgate 38. Aldama hits an and-one 3-pointer and then drains another on the next possession to give him 20 points for the afternoon.— Loyola Men's BKB (@LoyolaMBB) February 16, 2020
@Stadium @PatriotLeagueTVhttps://t.co/DqGTFDbDld@Patriot_Gameday #gohounds pic.twitter.com/yxtfFmakKF
During Sunday’s game you could tell that Aldama is still learning the American game. At times Hardy could be heard yelling out “This isn’t Spain” or “we do it different in America,” but with Aldama, Loyola is a completely different team.
Before the Spaniard’s debut, Andrew Kostecka was Loyola’s “go to guy,” and for good reason. He ranks in the top 100 in the country in five KenPom categories including true shooting percentage, steal percentage and fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Last season he made All-Patriot League First Team and is on pace to do it again. This March he will look to take his squad to, at least, the semifinals of the Patriot League tournament, something they haven’t done in his time on Cold Spring Lane.
Loyola will probably have to be on the road for the majority of the conference tournament, which takes place at campus sites, with the higher seed hosting. When Aldama sat out, Loyola was 1-8 in conference, but have gone 4-1 since his debut.
Suddenly, it seems the Greyhounds are more dangerous than their record may indicate.