Home / News / Loyola coach Drew Valentine focused on growth amid title hunt

Loyola coach Drew Valentine focused on growth amid title hunt


The heart of any team is reflected not only in its players but also in the passion, commitment and intentional harmony of its coach. its culture.

When is Drew Valentine? took over As the men’s basketball coach at Loyola in 2021, the Ramblers have ascended as kings of the Missouri Valley Conference with three regular-season conference championships, two MVC Tournament titles and two NCAA Tournament appearances in the previous four seasons (including a 2018 Final Four run). years.

Valentine was an assistant on Porter Moser’s staff, and his plan was to continue the winning culture that Moser had started. in your first year, he did. The Ramblers went 25-8 and won the 2022 MVC Tournament, then lost to Ohio State 54-41 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

However, in his second season, he is at the helm with important players. Lucas Williamson, Aher Uguak With the departure of Keith Clemons and Loyola joining the Atlantic 10, Valentine suffered the first losing season of his life. The Ramblers went 10-21 and finished last in the conference at 4-14.

“Last year was a scary feeling for me,” Valentine told the Tribune. “I have been involved in college basketball for 14 seasons. Until last year, I had only won 20 games in a season once. So losing 20 games was crazy for me.

“Over the last year, I’ve seen this as an opportunity to grow and really understand what works for me, what works within our team, our structure, our program.”

This was Monday, three days after the Ramblers. then yen-No. 21Dayton. Valentine was his usual calm self. It was clear he wasn’t celebrating or looking very far ahead; he was solely focused on the task at hand: winning a conference championship. The Ramblers (22-8, 14-3) sit in second place behind Richmond (23-7, 15-2) ahead of their final regular season game against La Salle on Saturday at Gentile Arena.

Valentine said he approached last spring as an opportunity because, unlike the NBA, there was no offseason with free agency. As the disappointing season ended, he began scouting potential signings to ensure the Ramblers had everything they needed to bounce back.

“Literally the day we lost (in last year’s Atlantic 10 Tournament), I felt like a 40-pound weight had been lifted off my chest,” he said. “I knew what we had to do because it was simple for me to go through what we went through last year… What we were looking for and the changes we had to make to get back to that.

“I thought we did a good job making changes this summer that would suit me and our program.”

Loyola coach Drew Valentine shouts during a game against Davidson on Feb. 4, 2024, at Gentile Arena. (Eileen T. Meslar/Chicago Tribune)

In May 2023, Loyola announced the signing of transfers Dame Adelekun, Greg Dolan, Patrick Mwamba and Des Watson. Three of the four were graduate transfers; Adelekun (Dartmouth) and Dolan (Cornell) were Ivy League players who were unable to use the extra “COVID year” at their schools. Valentine watched tape of his games in his office to get a head start on recruiting.

While some coaches in college sports have complaints about the transfer portal, Valentine said he tries to use it to his advantage, noting that it has its drawbacks.

“We’re lucky here that our best players didn’t leave,” he said. “A lot of coaches hate it because their players get kidnapped. And I feel the same way. I know my players Des Watson, Jayden Dawson and Miles Rubin are talking about people reaching out to their high school coaches and AAU coaches, even reaching out to them directly.”

But Valentine didn’t just change his roster in the offseason.

He reflected on what changes he needed to make as a coach and what he learned in the transition from assistant to head coach. He said he has to take into account the players’ mentality, their background, their “winning DNA” and how they train every day.

Valentine also had to determine his own coaching philosophy.

“I’m a guy who really believes in a process-oriented program,” he explained. “I’m not just about results. All this is really important to me.

“It’s possible to find people like Braden Norris who only average nine points per game, but to me he’s a superstar the way he goes about his day-to-day business. That’s what’s successful here. That’s the place to work. So when I came here, I loved it because of the way Coach Moser built the culture.”

Loyola coach Drew Valentine speaks in defense of Braden Norris during the game against Davidson on Feb. 4, 2024 at Gentile Arena.  (Eileen T. Meslar/Chicago Tribune)
Loyola coach Drew Valentine speaks in defense of Braden Norris during the game against Davidson on Feb. 4, 2024 at Gentile Arena. (Eileen T. Meslar/Chicago Tribune)

Valentine said he discovered during his time as head coach: “I just love people; they energize me.” This includes interviews with other coaches: Moser (now at Oklahoma), Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Southern Illinois’ Bryan Mullins, South Florida’s Amir Abdur-Rahim, Marquette’s Shaka Smart and Michigan assistant Saddi Washington .

Not only do they share their insights into coaching, but they also become his friends and mentors. Less than three years into his tenure, Valentine, 32, admits he has a lot to learn and a ways to go on his journey to get where he wants to be.

The Ramblers’ turnaround this season has led to much speculation about how long Valentine will stay in Rogers Park and whether he will replace the 69-year-old Izzo at Michigan State.

“The reality in college basketball is there are only two scenarios, and I experienced both of them this year,” Valentine said. “You’re either about to get fired or you’re about to go somewhere else. Even if you are the best…like Dan Hurley who is now at UConn. All the talk about him is that he will go to the NBA. This doesn’t end unless you turn 65 and have been employed for 20 years.

“When I lost at the beginning of this year, everyone thought I was blushing. But now I’m (supposedly) going to get this job and you can’t pay attention to it. It’s very flattering, but I’ve proven that I will never chase money. I had multiple Power Five offers while I was an assistant, but I chose to stay here because “I love my life, the city, the things we have built and continue to build.”

At any Loyola game, Valentine can be seen standing on the sideline, displaying the same emotion as his team. He throws punches, slams his hands on the field and gets the crowd excited.


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