By Manny Nunez
Even with a tough 65-62 loss to UConn on Thursday night, the competitiveness of the Loyola Marymount Lions was in full definition and will be a certainty as the season unfolds.
Last season at 14-17 the Lions hung around until the end in most of their games and were extremely competitive. Winning three of their last five games to snag a seventh seed in the West Coast Conference tournament, the Lions have been trying to bank on a lot of success on the upcoming year.
LMU behind the talent from Adon Jacko who was the bread and butter of the squad last season. However, he had forgone his senior season and decided to play for an Israeli professional team. This left head coach Mike Dunlap in a bit of a rut. That doesn’t mean though a man who has a good eye for bringing in good talent and is changing the culture won’t be able to work his magic.
“Our team this year has become a much more competitive defensive team,” Dunlap said. “It is a much different pace from last year as they are more cohesive and complete. We still have some work to do but I like the direction my team is going.”
Loyola Marymount had to go from within and bring in experience to become competitors in a much tougher conference. Kelvin Amayo transferred from Iona and has already made an impact. In his third game as a Lion, Amayo led the team with 18 points against the Huskies
“Amayo seems to be developing with our team and it showed against Nevada,” Dunlap said. “He slowly got into rhythm and with a game like he had tonight, it helped us stay strong to compete.”
Amayo noted his intentions in fitting in the Lions’ scheme after his move from Iona.
“For me I am just trying to do what I can to help my team,” Amayo said. “I want to do what I can to help my teammates, and tonight was a great way to get back in the game.”
Also, Oregon transfer Trevor Manuel has yet to dress since joining the team in the middle of last season, and he will be eligible to play after the Fall semester. The biggest transfer of the year came from Hawaii as Stefan Jovanovic added some height and talent to fill the gaps.
These recruits add to a team that already has players begging for leadership with returners Buay Tuach, Steven Haney and Brandon Brown. All three players have helped to form chemistry and have learned a great deal to be a much more competitive team.
In Dunlap’s third season, the Lions’ strength of schedule has also been stellar. Boise State at home and Colorado State on the road are on the up coming slate before the Lions’ first two WCC match ups with St. Mary’s and BYU on Dec. 29 and Dec. 31.
Currently the Lions are looking too win, but also putting emphasis in trying to develop as a team with such strong, yet raw talent that can be a challenge every night.
“Our main goal is to compete with the rest of the conference, and I really believe we can,” Amayo said. “Our team is very competitive, and our talent right now can speak for itself. It is going to take a few games but right now we have our eyes set for December to get ready for some big games.”
At the top: It is hard to imagine how the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Saint Mary’s Gaels will have a hard time drawing any attention away from each other in WCC play this season. So far throughout the first week, the Gaels and Bulldogs have manhandled their opponents. Both teams are currently ranked in the top 15 in the polls. Their success, along with their strength of schedule, will make them a much tougher outing compared to the uneasiness the West Coast Conference brought last year where only the Bulldogs punched a ticket to the Big Dance.
Part of the reason was how the conference brought a lot of equality from its rest of the opponents. While the Bulldogs and Gaels did their part and recruited to beef up their roster, that doesn’t mean the rest of the conference didn’t do so as well. There were too many spoiler games that ruined rankings from the top teams in the conference, with Loyola Marymount being one of those teams.