This season looks a lot different than the last one for Loyola-Chicago's sophomore guard Geoff McCammon. After 11 games last season the Ramblers were 6-5 and learning to play without forward Andy Polka, following Tuesday's 68-56 victory over Albany the Ramblers are now 9-2 this season.
An influx of new talent, like freshman Ben Averkamp and junior college transfer Terrance Hill, has made the Ramblers into a formidable Horizon League team. These results certainly weren't expected after the team lost J.R. Blount and Justin Cerasoli to graduation.
"We lost so many guys it's sort of like we were starting over anyways," said McCammon, who scored 16 points. "With our lead guards leaving last year it's kind of like we all had a chance to start over and build from scratch."
That scratch has been molded by head coach Jim Whitesell into a fun team to watch. The Ramblers jumped on Albany early and never looked back. Averkamp led the way with 17 points and 9 rebounds.
Averkamp continues to be more aggressive at both ends of the floor. He also had 2 blocks and a dunk to go along with his team-high in points and boards. His defense has been excellent in the post as well. Averkamp didn't pick up his first foul until 5:53 remained in the second half.
It is the leadership of Polka, who received a commemorative basketball for his 500th career rebound at the beginning of the game, and Hill on the court that is helping the Ramblers learn how to win close games and now begin distancing themselves from over-matched foes at home.
Hill especially has brought a winning attitude from Coffeyville Community College. The Ravens went 46-16 over the past two seasons. The excellent start to the season has allowed that mentality to permeate the team's mentality.
"If we were 2-9 we really couldn't have that confidence," Hill said. "We really couldn't feel like we could play like that, but since we're 9-2 we're like, 'Hey, regardless of who we're playing we're going to be dogs and we're going to run through walls to get what we want to get.'"
It's the junior that leads the charge. Hill comes through in big moments. Even though he shot just 4-11 from the field on Tuesday, his three-point shot at the end of the first half gave the Ramblers a somewhat more comfortable 10-point cushion heading into the break. Hill also had 6 assists - compared to 2 turnovers - and 2 steals.
"I wouldn't ask anything of my teammates that I wouldn't ask of myself," Hill said. "I don't feel like they really look to me, I just feel like I'm comfortable in taking any shot because I've been through a lot of situations."
The Ramblers have one more "tune-up" game against St. Francis (Ill.) before Horizon League play kicks into full gear. With teams like Wright State (which visits the Gentile Center on New Year's Eve), Detroit and Butler at the top of the conference, the Ramblers know it's going to be a difficult test.
"Our conference is tough," McCammon said. "I think coming in as a freshman I didn't know how tough it was. ... I feel like we're where we want to be going into conference play."
The Ramblers are right where the want to be, winning and ready to continue baking a beautiful season from scratch.