Loyola hoop dreams hit the national stage

Best of the ‘Pack part 1 of 3

Brain Lumar, A’96, practices free throws in the Rec Plex during the 1994-95 season. The Wolfpack went on to compete in the national tournament.

File Photo

Brain Lumar, A’96, practices free throws in the Rec Plex during the 1994-95 season. The Wolfpack went on to compete in the national tournament.

Every sports program has teams that bring to life the images of the classic hero.

The 1994-95 Wolfpack men’s basketball team is one of three teams in Loyola’s modern era of sports that has hero status.

Fifty years after winning the 1945 National Intercollegiate Tournament, the Loyola men’s basketball team had to start all over again. The school had only seen a few seasons since the cancellation of athletics in 1971.

And the basketball team was yet to have a winning season.

But that did not stop the 1994-95 men’s team from setting goals high.The team fit the role of the underdog. There were no scholarship athletes and the program was yet to have a four-season senior.

“When I first arrived [at Loyola], it seemed to me that no one knew about basketball because there were no scholarships given. You were looked upon as a regular student, which was fine by me, because I didn’t want any special treatment just because I played basketball,” Brian Lumar, A’96, said.

The ‘Pack’s season started quickly as the team faced some of the best teams in the nation and held ground.

The men went 4-2 over the Christmas holiday. The most crucial win was a 79-71 victory against Spring Hill, which was ranked fourth in the NAIA Division I.

But the most important loss proved to be even more inspiring. The team traveled to Iowa to play the Iowa State Cyclones. Those corn-fed NCAA Division I farm boys were ranked 15th in the nation.

The Cyclones were forced to play all five of their starters the entire game. Loyola showed it was a threat by holding Iowa State’s leading scorer to a season low.

After the ‘Pack’s loss, Cyclone Head Coach Tim Floyd commented that Loyola was the best-prepared team he’d seen that season.

But the team’s return in the spring was difficult. The men took losses to LeTourneau and Belhaven. In addition, star point guard Lumar faced the death of his grandmother.

Lumar was very close to his family members and chose Loyola so his family could come to every game.

“They always kept on me . . . by telling me never to close the door and to keep the dream alive,” Lumar said.

Despite the adversity, the team worked its way to a winning record against every team in the region and a 12-11 overall record.

Feb. 18 proved to be judgment day for this team. It was also the Hall of Fame induction for the 1945 championship team. In a game against the Ambassador Royals, the ‘Pack had the opportunity to clinch a winning season in front of a group of men that led the way fifty years ago.

But it wasn’t just the old team watching. It was also a record crowd of 1,824 people.

And it was enough to motivate the ‘Pack. Five Loyola players scored in double digits as the team won 91-77 against the Royals.

“No one thought we could have a winning season. It was really important,” Head Coach Jerry Hernandez told The Maroon after the game.

With the first barrier out of the way, the ‘Pack was faced with the Regional Tournament. Loyola, a team that was looked down upon at the beginning of the year, was now the favorite.

The men proved their abilities by winning the tournament and earning a spot in the NAIA national tournament.

On March 9, 1995, Loyola played its first national game since athletics was disbanded in 1971.

Unfortunately, the team had the 31st seed out of 32 teams. It was matched against number two Concordia.

At half time, the Wolfpack trailed by only ten points. But Concordia pulled away late in the game to give Loyola a 90-69 loss.

For Jason Mitchell, A’96, the season was bittersweet.

“I will always remember the early practices, playing against Iowa State and having a winning season my senior year,” Mitchell said.

The men of Loyola proved themselves both on and off the court that year. Lumar earned Academic All-American with a 3.1 GPA, and eight of the twelve men on the roster had a 3.0 or better GPA.

This team earned the honor of being one of the most memorable teams in modern Loyola athletics history by paving the way early on for a program that is still growing.