The NCAA basketball tournament starts today, but don't bother looking for Loyola Marymount in the 64-team field. Nor will you find the Lions among the 32 teams competing in the National Invitation Tournament.
In fact, any serious talk of Loyola playing in the postseason ended some time ago. Here's why:
* The Lions finished 7-20, their worst record since a 3-24 season in 1981-82.
* They ended the season with 10 consecutive defeats, their longest losing streak since 1982-83.
* They finished last in the eight-team West Coast Conference for the first time since 1986-87.
* They lost in the first round of the WCC tournament for the third season in a row.
In other words, anyone clinging to the memory of Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble, Paul Westhead and the 26-6 Loyola team of 1989-90 would probably be accused of living in the past. The days when the Lions were the run-and-shoot darlings of college basketball have passed.
This is a team trying to find its way back to respectability.
Expected to lead the way is Coach John Olive, whose first year at Loyola was something of a chamber of horrors. Lacking a true point guard and strong inside game, the Lions committed too many turnovers (18.6 a game) and relied too heavily on outside shots, most of which they missed.
Moreover, there were injuries to key players that contributed to Loyola's late-season slump.
Olive doesn't have any quick-fix solutions.
"There are no magic wands," he said. "We have to continue to build to get the situation where it needs to be."
Three seasons after reaching the NCAA West Regional final, Loyola finds itself in the throes of a colossal rebuilding job. In sports, losing often breeds losing, and there is nothing to indicate the Lions will pull out of their tailspin anytime soon.
"We have a lot of work to do," Olive said.
Yet there is no finger-pointing within the program. Nearly two weeks after Loyola's season ended with an 80-66 loss to Pepperdine in the WCC tournament, Olive chose to look back at the positives rather than dwell on the negatives.
"Funny as it sounds, I thought the team played hard," he said. "I thought (the players) were competitive and gave a great effort, even in their last game. When you look at the hustle-type numbers, we outrebounded Pepperdine, which was the leading rebounding team in the conference, and we outshot them from the foul line.
"How do you lose by 14 when you outshoot a team from the foul line? (The answer is) we didn't put the ball in the basket."
Poor shooting from the field plagued Loyola most of the season. The Lions shot 42.6% as a team, reaching a low mark March 6 when they made only four of 29 shots (13.8%) in the first half against Pepperdine.
Senior center Brian McCloskey was the only Loyola player who shot better than 50% for the season, making 53.9% of his field-goal attempts.
Olive hopes that next season's incoming freshmen can help Loyola improve in two of its weakest areas--guard play and shooting. Michael O'Quinn, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard from Muir High in Pasadena, and 6-foot point guard Jim Harris of Ocean View High in Huntington Beach signed early with the Lions, and Olive is recruiting 5-10 point guard Jimmy Williamson of South Torrance. Williamson is also being recruited by Fresno State and USC.
"We have to recruit shooters," Olive said. "Michael O'Quinn has scored quite a bit of points, and I think Jimmy Harris is a good shooter. But then again, these kids are freshmen. I anticipate all of them being contributors next year, but it's hard to say until they're here practicing and competing.
"I think we need better work out of our backcourt. We need a legitimate point guard. We have to be a more consistent perimeter-shooting team."
The problems don't end there. With the graduation of the 6-8 McCloskey and 6-8 forward Christian Scott, Loyola loses its two tallest front-line players. McCloskey was second on the team in rebounding, and Scott was fifth, although he didn't start.
That leaves forwards Wyking Jones, a 6-7 sophomore, and Zan Mason, a 6-6 junior, as the tallest and most experienced front-line players.
As for the newcomers, Loyola signed 6-10 center Ken Hotopp from Sandwich High near Chicago, and 6-9 transfer Ime Odouk, a Nigerian who has limited basketball experience in the United States. Also, 6-7 forward Jon Anthony, a former Peninsula High standout, will become eligible after redshirting this season.
"We're not going to be very physical," Olive said. "We're going to have a very inexperienced front line, but we're going to have to make due with what we've got."
Mason, a transfer from UCLA and former Westchester High standout, earned all-conference honors after leading Loyola with averages of 14.3 points and 6.9 rebounds. But his numbers dropped significantly over the last half of the season, partly because of a shoulder injury that restricted his playing time.