Loyola Chicago’s first season as a member of the Atlantic-10 Conference came to an end with the Ramblers falling to Saint Joseph’s 72-67 in the opening round of the 2023 A-10 Championship on Tuesday.
While the season didn’t necessarily go to plan for Loyola, who finished in last place in the conference at 4-14, head coach Drew Valentine took some positives from a strong finish to the campaign.
“I told the team after the game I was proud of the way that we competed,” Valentine said after A-10 Tournament loss. “It’s not easy to deal with what these guys had to deal with all year and still by the end of the year, get better to the point where we felt we were in a position to make a run.”
In their final six games of the regular season, the Ramblers won two of the contests and suffered a pair of two-point losses.
Redshirt senior guard Braden Norris echoed a similar sentiment about the development throughout this season.
“We kept getting better all year,” Norris said. “By the end of the year, we truly felt like we could come in and rattle off five [wins] in a row but obviously we didn’t. There was growth throughout the year but at the end of the day, we win [at Loyola Chicago], and 10-21 is not our standard.”
A step further than that, Valentine took to acknowledging the importance of Loyola’s immense and well-respected fanbase and how his staff is right there with the fans in wanting to re-establishing this program as a mid-major powerhouse.
“No matter what [Loyola Chicago basketball fans are] going to have the team’s back,” Valentine said. “It’s totally fair to demand a higher standard. That’s what we’re working for. I’m on the same page with all the Rambler fans who want better.”
In order to do that, Valentine plans to dig in hard this offseason and further develop his talented roster while adding some transfer pieces to help Loyola Chicago compete with the depth and grit that the A-10 provides.
“We’ve got to have a big-time offseason as coaches with whoever we bring into the program,” Valentine said. “I think we have a better idea of what works in this league now. The players that are a part of this program, have to have the best offseason they’ve ever had to get us where this program belongs.”
While the rebuild will be in full effect for Valentine and Co. this offseason, the Ramblers will heavily rely on Norris, who confirmed he’ll be back at Gentile Arena for the 2023-24 season.
The redshirt senior averaged 10.9 points (second on the team) and a team-best 4.0 assists per game this season.
“What makes me a good leader [is] I push myself,” Norris said. “I hold myself to a high standard, and that enables me to hold other guys to the same standard. But as a leader, I wasn’t good enough this year. I’ve learned a lot this year, so I’m taking those lessons and [will] try to get better next year, both as a leader and a player.”
Loyola won just 10 games this year, which snapped a streak of five straight 20-win seasons. The Ramblers averaged a hair under 25 wins each of those years.
With the brunt of Loyola’s roster and starting lineup set to return for next year, the Ramblers will look to build on this season, but Valentine will be sure his team doesn’t forget the sting of losing 21 games anytime soon.
“[That underdog mentality] needs to fuel us this summer,” Valentine said. “I’m going to find some creative ways to keep us a reminder. [You might see] some shirts that say ‘10-21’ on it. Or I don’t know, we might have shirts that say ‘21, can you do something for me?’ We’re going to be creative in reminding us of what we experienced this year.”