Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with new Loyola (MD) coach GG Smith about being the second-most famous coach in his family.
You were named head coach in April after spending six years as an assistant under Coach Jimmy Patsos. Why did you take the job? Jimmy prepped me for this job for a long time and I felt I was ready for this challenge. My wife works in the area and we love it here. I always wanted to be a D-1 head coach by age 35, so I missed it by one year!
Your program moved from the MAAC to the Patriot League over the summer, what impact has this had on your preseason preparation (if any)? It will allow us to establish new rivalries and expand our recruiting base. It is a great league both academically and athletically, so it is the best of both worlds. We will not play any league games until January so the challenge will be going to new places where we have not played to face new coaches who we have not seen before. We have been doing our research since I got the job in order to get a good feel for the road ahead.
Your non-conference road schedule includes trips to UConn, West Virginia, and Miami, which of these three games do you feel will present your biggest test? Those three games are what you call your “money games”. UConn has the most tradition of the three, but Miami was in the tourney last year and West Virginia coach Bob Huggins is a legend. We like to play the big boys.
Dylon Cormier led your team in scoring last season: how much pressure is there on him to be a leader this year? I do not think there is much pressure, although we lost five seniors from last year. Dylon was a leader last year as well so I am challenging him to lead us both on and off the court. He needs to work on his defense and three-point shooting, but he is one of the hardest-working players I have ever coached and I expect him to keep hitting big shots for us like he has done in the past.
Now that your dad Tubby Smith is the new coach at Texas Tech, will we be seeing the Red Raiders on your schedule anytime soon?! It is in the works so maybe we will see a Smith v. Smith battle in a couple of years. My dad came by recently to talk to our season ticket holders, and he is very excited for me.
What are your expectations for the upcoming season? We expect to get better every day and bring it every day in practice. We need to challenge ourselves to play hard, play together, and play smart.
You played for your dad at Georgia and were a grad assistant for him at Kentucky, what makes him such a great coach, and what is the most important thing you ever learned from him? He taught me to respect the game and have integrity. He is a great recruiter and great at Xs and Os, so I want to try and be like him. He is one of the most genuine people in this business: I am not just saying that because he is my dad.
In the 1996 NCAA tourney John Wallace had 30 points and 15 rebounds and made a three point shot with seven seconds left in a two-point overtime win by eventual runner-up Syracuse: where does that rank among the most exciting games of your career? Are you kidding: it ranks as one of the worst games of my career! I remember it vividly because I was 0-4 from the field and missed a couple of FTs. We should have won it in regulation, but I do not like talking about it.
In the 1997 NCAA tourney you scored a team-high 18 points in a three point loss to #14-seed Chattanooga, what was the reaction like in your locker room afterward? We had such a great run in the SEC tourney that year so I think we might have been a bit over-seeded for the NCAA tourney. When we saw ourselves as a #3-seed on Selection Sunday we were shocked, as we were not even ranked in the top-40 before then. Being upset in the NCAA tourney is one of the worst feelings in the world.
In the 2013 CIT your team had a pair of wins over Boston University and Kent State, what did your team learn from that run in the tourney that you think will help them this year? We have gone to the postseason the last few years and had a great time in the CIT. I think we learned the importance of trying to win 20 games and keep playing as long as we can. The perk of being in the Patriot League is that the highest-seeded team gets to play at home in the conference tourney.