The Thrill of a Lifetime: A History of Jesuit Basketball at Loyola University Maryland

By Jimmy “Jumpshot” Smith, Loyola University Maryland ’76

Loyola College in Maryland 1975-76 Men's Basketball Team (Photo by Jimmy Smith)


Loyola College in Maryland 1975-76 Men's Basketball Team (Photo by Jimmy Smith)

Loyola Maryland vs. Morgan State: February 12, 1952. Loyola point guard Nap Doherty was dribbling out the clock for one last shot as he always did in a close game. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Joel Hittleman’s back-door cut. In a split second, the ball was in Joel’s hands and he laid it in with 2 seconds remaining. It was over. Loyola won 65-63.

That night, Loyola (then known as Loyola College in Maryland) and Morgan State University (a historically black university in Baltimore, MD) did something bigger than play an exciting game of basketball. The two institutions took a step forward for civil rights in America. For the first time and without much fanfare, the teams had played the first inter-racial college basketball game south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Twenty years later (1972-73), Loyola coach Nap Doherty would start three African-American student-athletes (Ed “Slim” Butler, Rodney Floyd and Morris Cannon). He wasn’t trying to prove a point—it was just the right thing to do. That season, Loyola won its conference tournament as the 5th seed and made the team’s first venture into the excitement of post-season play in NCAA Division II.

Floyd literally stole the show, intercepting a pass and scoring with two seconds remaining in a “play-in game” in Miami against Biscayne College to put Loyola ahead by a point, surviving to advance to the South Atlantic Regionals in Roanoke, Va. No one on that “Cinderella Team” gave any thought to its “color scheme.”

Former Loyola athletic director Joe Boylan once said, “It isn’t hard to do the right thing, to make the right decision.” Those words echo an important aspect of what Jesuit education is all about: preparing students to make intelligent decisions throughout their lives in the service of others. And Jesuit basketball is an extension of that education.

The 1972-73 season also marked the end of an era for Loyola’s legendary and visionary leader, athletic director and men’s basketball coach Emil G. “Lefty” Reitz, Jr. Reitz spent 36 years of his life expanding Loyola’s sports programs from 4 to 11 before the school became co-ed. Loyola’s Jesuits entrusted him with the development of their students on the athletic courts and fields and he did not disappoint: under his tenure, Loyola won 12 championships in basketball and 11 in baseball. Reitz hired coaches in other sports who would emulate his success.

In the 1940s and 50s, Reitz took college basketball in Maryland by storm. The watershed moment for the program came on the night of February 3, 1947, when the Loyola Greyhounds snapped undefeated Seton Hall’s 28 game win streak, in front a standing room only crowd at Loyola’s tiny Evergreen Gym. Rev. Aloysius C. “Wish” Galvin, S.J. ’48 was a starter on that team, which included future NCAA All-Time scorer, Jim Lacy Jr., and future NBA player, Andy O’Donnell (Loyola’s first and only future NBA player until Mike Morrison made the Phoenix Suns roster in 1989).

O’Donnell and teammate Bill Johnson held Seton Hall’s All-American and Naismith Hall of Famer, Bobby Wanzer, to 8 points while Lacy totaled 21 on the way to a 54-53 victory. Joe Kelly ’39, a sportswriter for The Baltimore Sun, was covering the game and said, “I thought the roof was going to blow off the place.”

Loyola’s president at the time, Rev. Edward B. Bunn S.J., declared Monday, February 5, 1947 as a school holiday in honor of the Greyhounds’ amazing achievement.

In an interview at Georgetown Preparatory School in June 2007 (just before his death later that year), Fr. Galvin was asked, ”What was it like the night Loyola broke Seton Hall’s 28 game win streak?” He leaned back in his chair and with that deep voice, familiar to all who knew him, said, “It was the thrill of a LIFETIME!”

Fr. Galvin’s life story epitomizes how Jesuit education can impact the lives of others. He entered the Society of Jesus after graduation, became a dean at Loyola, then president of the University of Scranton, before leading a 37-year career as a math teacher and football chaplain at Georgetown Prep. Like Lefty Reitz and Nap Doherty, Fr. Galvin inspired fairness, loyalty and confidence, and as a Jesuit, he inspired faith and self-worth, making every person he ever met feel special. Coach Reitz only displayed one photo of any of his players on his office wall, that of Fr. Galvin.

Reitz himself inspired such loyalty from Loyola students and alumni that when ABC Wide World of Sports anchor Jim “McKay” McManus ’43, Loyola’s former sports editor and court announcer, was asked to chair a fundraising committee for Loyola’s new field house, he responded, “I’ll do it only if it is named after Lefty Reitz.” In 1983, under McKay’s leadership, Loyola alumni raised the money to build Reitz Arena; one year later, McKay introduced the starting line-ups at the opening men’s basketball game against fellow Jesuit team, the Holy Cross Crusaders.

Reitz’s vision for Loyola athletics was finally realized when a young Tom O’Connor became coach of the men’s basketball team in 1974, then led the efforts for Loyola to enter Division I of the NCAA as athletic director from 1976-1986. But more important, O’Connor was a leader for student-athletes and understood the importance of leading a life of service off the court. He said, “Being a student-athlete at Loyola is a privilege, not an entitlement. The way you conduct yourself in the classroom and on the basketball court should be seen as an example to the student body you are representing.”

Loyola’s basketball program has thrived over the years by challenging bigger schools such as Villanova, Georgetown, University of Maryland and Seton Hall, and competed for bragging rights with local rivals Mount St. Mary’s, Towson University, Catholic University, University of Maryland Baltimore County and the University of Baltimore. The history of Loyola’s program is chronicled in the book, Running with the Greyhounds, A Century of Loyola Maryland Basketball History (Dovedale Publishing).

In an excerpt from his foreword to Running with the Greyhounds, legendary basketball coach and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member Morgan Wootten said, “This remarkable history of Loyola Maryland’s basketball program is a gem that should be treasured by anyone interested in histories of basketball, the development of college basketball in Baltimore and Maryland, the impact of a Jesuit education and the Loyola Greyhounds.”

To order your copy of Running with the Greyhounds, visit runningwiththegreyhounds.webs.com or contact author Jimmy Smith: jimmy-jumpshot@hotmail.com.