BALTIMORE — Loyola basketball coach Jimmy Patsos uncorked a virtuoso postgame news conference when the Greyhounds won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title last week, referencing everything from adopting the attitude of activist Bobby Seale to a visit to the Guggenheim.
Three seats down, Shane Walker was transfixed by something far less animated than the gregarious Patsos. Right beside Walker was the tournament championship trophy, a tangible symbol of finally securing an opportunity he once left behind.
Walker stared at the trophy while Patsos rambled on, caressed it while questions were directed at his coach and two teammates. He transferred from Maryland in 2008 after one season, and his old teammates enjoyed a pair of NCAA tournament appearances.
Adrian Bowie and Dino Gregory and Cliff Tucker, all of whom arrived in College Park the same time Walker did, experienced the postseason. And now, Walker will do the same.
"It just made me more hungry just to get there," said Walker, whose 15th-seeded Greyhounds (24-8) face second-seeded Ohio State (27-7) on Thursday in Pittsburgh. "Obviously, I left Maryland with mixed emotions, but I always wanted them to do well. But when I saw them and thought 'I could have been there,' I said 'I'm going to get this team there,' and that's what we've done."
Walker played sparingly in his year at Maryland, averaging 0.5 points and 5.3 minutes in 24 games. He was raw, yet at 6-foot-10 with the ability to hit outside a player Patsos happily added to his program.
Patsos has judiciously added transfers throughout his eight-year tenure, with the likes of Andre Collins (via Maryland), Gerald Brown (Providence) and Erik Etherly (Northeastern) becoming all-conference players. Walker was a useful piece, but his experience wasn't always as smooth as some of Patsos' other additions.
"I would have to say that, but I've grown up as a coach and he's grown up as a player," Patsos said. "That's a good combination. We've grown together. We communicate much differently. He's like 'Dude, I know you yell and I respect that because that's you are. But I'm a smart guy and you don't have to yell at me like that.' OK. 'So if I don't yell at you and just tell you what to do, you'll do it?' 'Yes, I will.' And he did it."
Even if it meant a shift in his game.
Walker led the Greyhounds in scoring a year ago, but Loyola needed him to provide something else this season. So he's taken charges. He's blocked shots. He's rebounded. And he's defended the likes of Iona's Mike Glover and Kentucky's Anthony Davis without much concern for his decreased scoring.
"When you have a tough defensive matchup, it's hard to give your all on the offensive end because you're giving so much energy on the defensive end," Etherly said. "Him being able to lock down a lot of the better big men in the country and rebound when we need him to rebound, it's made a big difference in the team."
Patsos said he saw a change in Walker over the last season and a half. After the Greyhounds lost six of seven in December 2010, it was Walker who emerged as Patsos' intellectual extension on the floor while then-freshman Dylon Cormier became the Greyhounds' emotional nexus.
Both players substantially improved this year, with Walker ensuring everyone knows precisely what is expected of them on the court.
"He's been a good player all three years, but this year he's been a great teammate," Patsos said.
He also made a difference in Loyola's 48-44 defeat of Fairfield last week. He made two defensive rebounds in the final 20 seconds and hit a free throw with two seconds left to clinch the victory. Soon, the title trophy (and the elusive opportunity it represented) was in his arms.
"It means the world to me," Walker said. "It means so much that I can do this, not just for our team, but the whole community. Not just Loyola University, but the people of Baltimore as well. It's indescribable how much it means to me. I'm just happy for some of the guys who may never get this chance again."
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