Loyola head coach Porter Moser was on the podium this afternoon in San Antonio to talk about his team’s experience.
COACH MOSER: It’s an understatement to say we’re excited to be here. We are. We’re looking forward to competing and moving forward. But our guys have really enjoyed this journey being here so far.
Q. How is selling transfers on Loyola different maybe than typical high school players, guys who have been down with the road with other schools? Is there a difference in recruiting those guys, finding those guys?
COACH MOSER: I think the thing that’s the same is that young kids, you’ve got to convince them that they can go make an impact. We say all the time in the recruiting process, a lot of times young people, in recruiting, they want — whether it’s a transfer or high school kid — they want to make a splash on signing day, or announcement day.
Hey, I’m going to this conference, this school, and they think that validates them being a player with all the peripheral people.
We always sell: Go to a place, go to Loyola and make a splash on game day. You could have 125, 130 splashes. And that’s what we’ve tried to convince kids to come in and go where you’re going to play. That’s why the transfer number is so high.
One of the biggest reasons they transfer is the role they’re playing. So the transfers is, we’ve had some success also, is if it didn’t work out there this is your last chance. What are the things that — what boxes have to be checked. One is the environment, the culture of what you want. Are you going to be happy? Is it an education that you’re going to be proud of?
If you weren’t going to play, would you be happy with that degree? And then the impact. And that’s the thing we’ve been able to sell at Loyola because our arrow has only had one way to go, is up. So, we’ve tried to recruit those type of players that will come in and play and impact.
Q. In the locker room, talked to a couple of players about learning to navigate life’s ups and downs and they talked about lessons they took from you. What would you say about losing your job at Illinois State and what impact that had on your life going forward?
COACH MOSER: No question. You know, adversity doesn’t have to define you. And some of the worst things that’s happened in my life, starting at a young age, some of the best things have followed. And I’m proud of that and it’s become who I am. And the more you tackle adversity the more confidence you have to face adversity.
And I’ve talked to a lot of coaches, and I hope people see that in me, being able to be here with that, that adversity can define you in a positive way. We’re all competitive in this, whether adversity happens to you in the professional life or whatever field you’re in, dive into a competitive reinvention process.
I dove into this competitive reinvention process where, it happened. It was part of the business. I had to take what I felt I was doing right still, and stay confident in myself and my faith. And I had a competitive reinvention going with Rick Majerus. I went in there and I went with the approach where I’m going to be in the room with one of the best basketball minds for however long it was, and I’m going to have the competitive reinvention. I’ll be back. I’ll be the head coach again.
And you have to dive into that. You can’t dive into a self — now part of that process of adversity, you’re going to go through mourning. That’s normal. I’m not going to tell my guys, you can’t feel emotion, you can’t feel being down when something bad happens to you. That’s normal. You can’t stay down. You’ve got to be positive and move forward.
And I hope people see that. Especially in the coaching profession where it’s such a fraternity. There’s a lot of great coaches out there, and I can name a handful right now that just lost their jobs, part of the business. And it doesn’t have to be over for them. Be competitive with the reinvention.
Q. I’m wondering with this group of guys if you capitalized on their passing ability by setting your offense around that or you told them this is how we’re going to play and they adapted to it?
COACH MOSER: It starts in the recruiting process. We recruited to this system. You know, when I was with Coach Majerus — and I’ve said it a lot, forgive me because I’ve quoted him — in his Wisconsin accent he would say, spacing is offense and offense is spacing. I took so much about the spacing from him and then we added a little pace to it. We kind of call it pace and space.
But in the recruiting process, we talk about guys, my assistants ad nauseam understand I like skilled guys, guys that can shoot, pass, dribble, with this offense. And you know we’ve recruited to it into the system, not the other way around, trying to get guys — and then the development’s a big part of it.
But I tell you the other big part of it is this. You’ve got to get guys that are willing to share it, move it, be unselfish. And that’s why we recruited so many guys that come from winning programs, seven state champions. Even Krutwig, he was kind of getting mad at me because I keep saying seven state championships. He’s, like, I didn’t win a state championship but I want to win. We went 30-2. He went at Jacobs High School, took his team as far as they’ve ever been, but he doesn’t have a state championship and he’s getting pissed at me. So I’m going to include seven state championships and Cameron Krutwig who took Jacobs High School to a 30-2 record.
Q. I imagine Aundre in his senior year figured I’m going to start. How formative in all of this was his acceptance of not starting, and what do you recall about letting him know and how that went?
COACH MOSER: I think people have enjoyed watching us play. And I said that when we were 0-0 with just one person in our press conference. I said we’re a fun team to watch because we share it and we move it. The unselfishness that people see, the sharing the ball, Aundre Jackson could be the biggest definition of that, as unselfish as anybody.
Aundre was the sixth man of the year in the Missouri Valley last year. He had great numbers, one of the top offensive field goal percentages in the country. Was preseason picked first team in the Missouri Valley. And then after, I think it was two games, we just were clicking with Krutwig starting. And Aundre, we felt was better coming off the bench like he did last year.
Not one time did he complain. Not one time did he walk in my office and said, Coach, can we talk about me not starting. Never once, not once. And he’s always been — and there’s times when Krutwig’s rolling, you know, and Aundre might play 17, 18 minutes. Not one — does that mean it doesn’t bother him? I know it’s bothering him. I know it’s bothering him.
But the team’s bigger than one person, and he’s the best example of that, is that he’s done whatever he’s asked, played his role. And he played a big role. He’s actually the leading scorer in the four games of the tournament off the bench. And he exemplifies unselfishness and willing to be part of something bigger than himself. And our success has happened — a piece of the success is Krutwig’s, what he brings to the table. And he’s understood that.
Q. I remember you talking the first couple of years you talked about the lack of facilities to practice on, even when the Gentile was getting renovated, there was almost no place for you guys to shoot. How were you able to build this under those conditions, and how is the face of that changing now?
COACH MOSER: Great question. For those who don’t know, we had Gentile Arena and the Alumni Gym, and when I got there they tore down Alumni Gym. And we have four sports in a gym. Most people don’t have men’s volleyball. We have men’s volleyball and women’s volleyball. They had volleyball there and basketball there.
They tore that down and all that was left was this to share with four sports. So I had my immature stage where I bitched about it for a long time. And then I matured a little bit because the message I was always telling our guys is you’ve got to control what you can control. And we couldn’t control it.
So we’d find ways to get extra shooting in. We’d find different ways. Meanwhile, a gentleman named Al Norville who is at every Final Four, a former player. His name is on the Norville Center. Every Final Four we had breakfast about this practice gym. For the last six years, we’ve had breakfast going, we’ve got to get a practice gym. They’re breaking ground this spring for the Alfie Norville Practice Gym.
It’s been something because our guys love to shoot. It’s been a negative — like Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson, those guys, Marques Townes, they want to shoot. Every road trip we go on, they want to get in and get extra shots.
So we’ve had to find ways and we’ve had to do that at Loyola. This journey has been a complete grassroots rebuild. I’m talking from the rock bottom, first stage and finding a way with one gym with four sports has been one of the ways that we’ve just had to find ways and control what we can control. We couldn’t control it.
Q. I was anxious to ask how you feel about the coincidence of bringing your team here to this building to play in Final Four. 20 years ago Coach Majerus was here with his Utah team. And just the coincidence and how you feel about that.
COACH MOSER: It is a coincidence. I remember seeing, as a young coach here 20 years ago at the Final Four, I remember seeing Coach Majerus in a white T-shirt that said “Utah Utes,” and his whole team walking out. I remember going, holy cow, how big that team was. And I remember seeing them on the Riverwalk at a restaurant at the Final Four. I remember that vividly.
Then fast forward to the time that I worked for Coach. Out of all the things about Coach, he remembers things. There’s nothing that stuck in his craw more than losing that championship game to Kentucky. He could tell you every play. He could tell you everything. It physically bothered him to lose that game.
And he talked about it. And the irony of him going to that one Final Four as a head coach, and for me to spend so much time with him in San Antonio, to be here, it is special.
I wish he was around. I was asked a lot, they go, what do you think Coach Majerus would say about your team. I think he would look at it, and I think he’d like to watch us play. In the recruiting process he’d say, Porter, especially big guys, he’d say, I’d bring a big kid to the table, how about this kid. He wouldn’t ask me, is he athletic, does he have good hands, good thing. He would ask me this one question: Does he love to play? Does he love to play?
Because he’d start with that and then the development process would start. And I think he’d love our team. We share it. I think he’d say we play the right way. We’ve got to be the first team in Final Four history to win the first four games with no dunks. It’s a stat I’m not proud of. We’re close. We have a finger roll lay-in that some of the guys are trying to debate whether it was a dunk or not by Marques. But I think he’d be proud of our guys and how unselfish and how they share it.
Q. The history of Chicago high school basketball has always been pretty rich. But so many kids have left. How much do you think that success by Chicago college team could maybe make the city more attractive for youngsters to stay and know that they can achieve something like this?
COACH MOSER: No question. When I got the job seven years ago, we are Loyola of Chicago and we had one Illinois player on our roster, and we had no Chicago public league players for an 11- or 12-year run. No public league player. Think about that.
And Milton Doyle, who is now with the Brooklyn Nets, was our breakthrough player. He was highly ranked and we got him. And Dontre Ingram will tell you, he goes, I saw Milton was there. And I looked at it.
And what happened was we would start going into these gyms and they would go, wow, Loyola is here. Like, we haven’t seen Loyola in a while. But here’s what I had to do. There was — our campus is gorgeous. I’ll be honest with you, I grew up in Naperville, Illinois, played at Benet Academy.
Loyola Park Summer League was right down Sheridan. We’d jump in two vans, drive in, go right down Sheridan Avenue, right by Loyola to Loyola Park. And go back and forth.
I’ve been down there but never been on inside of campus. When I played as a coach, the bus would pull up, go in the arena, but I never — when I was interviewing for the job, when I got involved in the job, I walked around and said: I can’t believe this is here.
So the process started with: I started recruiting high school coaches and AAU coaches and brought them on like an unofficial visit. I said just come see it. Because I know they all have kids ears.
We started the process of bringing coaches and AAU coaches and walk around the campus, walk around the lake, see all the new buildings.
If I’ve heard it one time, I heard it a thousand times: I’m from Chicago. I had no idea Loyola’s campus was this nice.
So we started this process of that. Donte came and Lucas came and now we’ve had a number. Cameron Krutwig is from Illinois. Christian Negron is from Illinois. It’s becoming cool to stay home. You can get friends and family to see you play. The Missouri Valley was a big hit. It’s a league that resonated with that.
I’ve been told many times: Chicago’s a pro town. It’s not. It’s a sports town. I look at what Northwestern did last year. Northwestern captivated the city. Captivated the city. They have a couple of Chicago kids now. We have a couple kids from Chicago now.
It’s good for Chicago basketball. It’s a great area, great thing for basketball. And I hope it snowballs. I just hope they stay on our campus, not the other ones.
Q. When the transfer issue gets talked about in college basketball, often it is framed as something that needs to be fixed. I’m wondering what your opinion is on the idea of possibly giving kids a little more freedom in the process, not necessarily straight up free agency, but giving kids more freedom in the process, or is it something that needs to be fixed?
COACH MOSER: Well, I’m one of the many coaches that think that the transfer rule, if they can just transfer with no — it’s going to be devastating for guys as a trickle-down theory.
I was saying something about myself: I go can you imagine the Missouri Valley, people look at that league, how good of a league it is, it’s just going to be a farm system and they’re going to pick. Where does it end?
I had a good friend of mine, Division II school in Illinois, at Lewis Scott Trost, said: Just think about all the good Division II schools; it will be trickle down. Look at Division II, all those guys averaging 25 at a Division II school, come on up, no penalties.
It’s a hard dynamic. I’m not going to say it’s an easy dynamic. But that’s not the answer, in my opinion. I just think that transfer rule, it is going to devastate the trickle-down theory of that. You could be sitting there. It could uproot lives.
You could spend all this time building the program at Loyola. I’ve spent my heart and soul building this program, from getting through all the tough times. And then you could see somebody going into this year, saying: You know what, Donte Ingram was really good last year as a junior, I’m going to take Donte. And now Loyola is not here today. That’s terrible for the game.
It’s been great for the game, watching what we’ve done and enjoying what this group, what they’ve done. But that could happen to you in August. I mean, how do you plan for losing a guy like Donte Ingram at Loyola if something like that happens in August? You don’t.
I mean, Donte has been a four-year work of where we’ve developed him. He’s gotten better every year. Every year he’s developed. He wasn’t that when he got here. And to his credit on how much he’s worked. And to just be able to lose that like that, those are tough things. Those are tough things. And they’re hard temptations for young kids not to take.
Q. What do you recall about Clayton’s visit when you were recruiting him as a transfer? And did you kind of cede the hands-on work to Ben a little bit more than you normally would?
COACH MOSER: Absolutely. As a coach when you bring a kid on an official visit, you go all right who is going to be his host. That didn’t happen with us. It was the easiest decision who was going to be his recruiting host.
But I remember when right away we found out Clayton was transferring. And we got the release. And I went to see him and then drove over to his parents. It was one day to recruit him.
The way the calendar fell, it was a contact day and then it became dead. So you had to make a decision on where do you go as a head coach. And I remember it was one day, then dead.
And I said: All right, I’m going to go to Des Moines. We drove over. Had a contact with Clayton. Then I drove there all the way to Kansas City to meet with his parents. I hugged his mom Terri in Atlanta and his dad. I had Galen and Terri, all three in a bear hug back at the hotel. I said that was the best living room visit I ever did on a one-day thing.
It’s amazing because you had to make a decision where you were going to go. Then they moved us up in the order. He had like three visits already planned. And he leap-frogged Loyola to that first visit.
And then I pretty much knew I was in because Ben was like game on. All right. We’re getting him. And when he visited he had a great visit and then committed. And it’s been well-documented, their friendship and what they mean — and they’re two winners, state championship.
But I know you read this story, but I want to share it because it comes from true emotion when I say it. One of the coolest moments I’ve had with those two was after the Missouri Valley championship, we cut down the nets. The celebration was euphoric; we’re going to the NCAA Tournament. We came back.
We had five minutes of a closed door in the locker room to ourselves before we had to go to the press conference. We said a prayer.
We had five minutes. And then we broke. And then the top seven were walking down the hall in St. Louis to the media room.
And I’m walking behind Clayton and Ben. And it was the most real little kid moment you’ve ever seen. They had the hats with the nets in it, they’re walking, hitting each other going: Can you believe this, man? We’ve been winning since we were in third grade. They’re hitting, walking, slapping each other’s head, it was like it was T-ball, and they just hit a home run in T-ball. They were like two little kids. All they were talking about, it wasn’t like how many you had, how many you had. It was: We’ve been winning since the third grade. And it was a really cool moment to share with those two kids. Young men.
Q. We know you’re a competitive guy and one person who knows that is Monte Towe?
COACH MOSER: Who?
Q. Monte Towe. We talked to him, he said he’s rooting for you guys all the way. He said 15 years ago there was a pretty heated game between you guys. And he said he thinks you stole his sport coat after that game. We were wondering if you could comment.
COACH MOSER: That’s amazing. That is amazing. The higher platform you go, the more your closet of things that happen, they’re going to dig up. Wow. You get the award. That game. Digging that out.
Yeah, it was an incident after that — Monte and I have been great ever since then. New Orleans/Little Rock game. It got heated. He wore a sport coat with a T-shirt under it every game.
And we hit a basket, they came down, hit a final basket to beat us. There was a little altercation, not started by me.
And then the next year when we played them the radio stations in Little Rock, the story became bigger than life. And apparently, with no part on my part, he had taken off his sport jacket and put it on his thing, all he had was a T-shirt, coaching the game in Little Rock and somebody walked by, grabbed it, took it. It was a radio station. And the radio station was trying to auction off I got Monte Towe’s sports jacket.
That is the award for the longest bone in the closet that you dug up in this press conference. I haven’t thought about that in years. That’s like so long ago. That’s funny.
Q. Your defense probably doesn’t get as much recognition as your offense, but what did you take defensively, adopt from Majerus, and your own and the wall of culture points, how do you actually implement that when players come into the program?
COACH MOSER: I’ve taken so much from Coach Majerus, but he had — his teaching points were off the charts. I thought the way he would say to guys, like “three to the rim.”
Those were little statements that would resonate with guys. And I would watch, and as I went through the years with Coach and players, the kids, we’d be at the restaurant with the play and the big would be there, wall up. Guys would go: Look, that’s like three to the rim.
And these sayings just started to resonate. There was a bunch of them. And they were little teaching points that sunk in with Coach, with the guys. That was an attention of detail that separated it.
When I got the job at Loyola, just going through, I started going: You know what, I’m going to use these same little terms, because they became habit to me, coaching them because I was just echoing Coach. And we put them on the wall. And any player can walk in, like you guys have done, and point to any of them. And the accumulation of all these things make the whole.
And that’s — the biggest thing is on the defense. And people have made — this is just a small example of the power of all that — is people have made — we’re one of the lowest fouling teams in the country. Krutwig hasn’t fouled out of a game.
It’s the accumulation of three or four of them. One of them is three to the rim. One’s reach for the lights, the verticality rule. Guys try to block, they’re undisciplined, they try to block shots.
Three to the rim, show your hands, no hand checking. Three or four of them go into not fouling. And here’s a big one that Coach Majerus would say, and I’m going to delete a word in there because of where I am at. It’s know who you are.
And Krutwig knows who he is. Krutwig is not a shot blocker. He doesn’t run over and try to pin a shot to the rubber, not the glass. You know, he’s not that guy. He’s a through you to the rim take charge guy, and he knows who he is. And that’s a big part of your team defense.
And these guys, it’s been accumulation of a lot of little things, the closeout, high hands on the closeout, no middle — all these little things that go into — Rick had an amazing way to teach the game that stuck.
All of us have ways to do it in practice and then there’s a natural slippage that goes on in the game. And Coach just had a smaller band of slippage. And I’m hoping — every day I keep hoping to learn and get better from that. And he’s got a huge imprint on our defense without a doubt.
Q. What has it been like to coach Richardson and Clayton together, and is it easier to coach them knowing they have that chemistry for playing together for so long?
COACH MOSER: I’m the luckiest guy to coach not just those two, all the guys. They’re about winning. They don’t have an ego. You can get on them. You can get on them and push them and press on them and they respond.
Because when you have — I hope this message gets out a lot. We talk a lot about it. When you have love and trust in the locker room, you know, you can get on kids. They want to be coached.
Custer and Richardson, they want to be coached, because they want to win. But you don’t have to coach energy and effort. You spend most of your time coaching the technical part of the game when you coach winners. You don’t spend all this time on motivation, all this time on energy, on attitude, on body language.
Sometimes as a coach you spend a ton of time on those things. You don’t spend that with Richardson and Custer and Townes and Donte, you spend it on the technical part of it. That’s a blessing for me as a coach.
But I don’t doubt their motives. They’re about Loyola, they’re about the team. And off the floor, are you kidding me, they’re Academic All-Americans. And they take care of their business. Our team rule is you don’t have to have a million of them: It’s protect the team, no entitlement, and be early. That covers a lot. And they know that. They know that.
They know we’ve talked about what — protect the team, what does that involve? There’s a big scope of that. But you don’t have to outline every little rule number 1.82 of page 6. You don’t have to have that kind of handbook with these guys. They protect the team. No entitlement and be early. It’s been a blessing.