By John Crumpacker
Although this is Mike Dunlap’s second year coaching his alma mater’s basketball team at Loyola Marymount, he figures it’s really his first year. A look at his rosters from 2014-2015 to 2015-2016 shows why.
Seven players from last year’s 8-23 team are gone, three by graduation (Godwin Okonji, Chase Flint, Ayodeji Egbeyemi) and four through other circumstances best characterized as “left/transferred,’’ including LMU’s leading scorer, Evan Payne (18.0).
“We had three seniors that graduated. They all walked (in graduation ceremonies). That’s good,’’ Dunlap said. “We had four that didn’t return, and that was necessary. We raised the standard. They were uncomfortable. It was amiable. The silver lining is we had those scholarships (open) and were able to pick our guys. We added six players, which is a huge recruiting year for anyone in America.’’
In place of the departed seven are six players more in line with what Dunlap considers “his guys,’’ which he defines thusly:
“Character, winning programs, super competitive. They come from winning programs. They know the sacrifices you have to have to win. Make sure they’re competitive people.’’
So far, so good. With the WCC season not quite at its halfway point, the Lions have already won one more game than they did all of last season and are 9-10 overall and 2-6 in conference after Thursday night’s home loss to BYU at Gersten Pavilion.
Significantly, last week LMU recorded its first Bay Area sweep at San Francisco and at Santa Clara since 1992. Dunlap’s guys dispatched the Dons at Memorial Gym 87-83 and the Broncos 76-66 at the Leavey Center.
“It hadn’t been done by this program in 23 years,’’ Dunlap said. “It’s the first feather in the cap of this team. It gave us confidence. They’re a little bit wiser now knowing what it takes to win in the league on the road. They did something that has some substance to it but we’re not going to hyperbolize it. We have work to do. We know where we started.
“I use the cliché, ‘Inch-by-inch, it’s a cinch. Yard-by-yard, it gets hard.’ We’ve got to earn our way in this league. We have a long ways to go to earn respect.’’
Two players new to the LMU program and one holdover are carrying the weight for the Lions in Dunlap’s second season – or first, by his reckoning. Forward Adom (pronounced “Autumn’’) Jacko is the leading scorer (14.8) and rebounder (6.6), guard Brandon Brown is not far behind in scoring (13.1) and leads in assists while returning guard David Humphries contributes 5.5 points per game. Another holdover, senior forward Marin Mornar, contributes 6.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
Dunlap singled out Humphries by saying, “He’s shooting the heck out of the ball. He’s a tough defender and rebounder. He’s been a pleasant surprise.’’
Whereas LMU’s roster was dominated by international players a year ago, the current version is “down” to five, two of whom are seniors, Humphries (Australia) and Mornar (Croatia). Eventually, Dunlap wants his team to reflect the vast talent pool that is Southern California. Jacko, for one, is a junior college transfer is from Upland in neighboring San Bernardino County.
“There’s no rhyme or reason why we can’t get good local players to come here,’’ the coach said. “We’re starting to localize our recruiting. We’ll have balance.’’
The excitement in Dunlap’s voice rose as he talked about three recruits who will be part of his 2016-17 team, freshman wing Daniel Gibson from nearby Fairfax High School, 6-8 transfer Joshua Sykes from Fresno City College and 6-10 Oregon transfer Trevor Manuel, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.
“It takes time to do it the right way,’’ Dunlap said of transitioning away from international players. “We’ll have the welcome mat out.’’
As LMU prepares for the second half of the conference season next week, Dunlap said, “I have no projections in mind. Our key is keeping our eyes off the scoreboard and enjoying the game. We have to be process-oriented. It’s starting to pay dividends.’’
Dunlap said he literally tells his players not to look at the scoreboard and instead concentrate on playing the game. The approach has led to some close defeats, five by nine points or less, along with enough wins to keep players and coaches enthused for the present and the near future.
As an exemplar in the coaching profession, Dunlap said he looks to Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, whose fun-loving image dovetails with his ability to adapt to changing realities.
“There’s too much complaining by coaches that there are too many changes (these days),’’ Dunlap said. “I couldn’t disagree more … if you’re going to evolve in this business. I don’t want to bitch about what the modern-day player isn’t. I want to focus on what he is. The sooner you acknowledge the difference the sooner you can make adjustments.’’
Dunlap’s biggest adjustment so far has been to convince himself his second season at LMU is really his first.
John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards.