March is the time of the year that college basketball is at its finest. The greatest teams in the country are battling for the ultimate title of being named National Champion of NCAA Basketball. It’s the most wonderful time of the year for college basketball fans – but not for every college basketball program.
Only 68 teams are selected to participate in the NCAA Tournament. Only a handful of others are invited to the NIT or third tier CBI and CIT Tournaments. But for everyone else, the season is over.
Loyola Marymount’s season came to an end when they were defeated in the first round of the West Coast Conference Tournament. They didn’t get an invitation to any post-season tourney, nor did their regular season pan out as they had hoped. And then, days after the season had ended, their basketball program was handed a heavy punch to the gut.
Feb 12, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Loyola Marymount Lions guard Evan Payne (1) puts up a shot against Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Gary Bell, Jr. (5) during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Payne, by far best player on Loyola Marymount’s roster and one of the best young guards in the conference, announced he was transferring. Though it’s fair to say this move was somewhat expected, it made for one heck of a step backward for a Loyola Marymount program that spent the entire season in rebuilding mode. Payne was their guy; he provided magnificent guard play, thundering dunks, and confidence to the team.
We can’t fault Payne for his decision though – he’s a wonderful player who doesn’t want to spend his collegiate career in rebuilding mode. This is absolutely reasonable. But it certainly made head coach Mike Dunlap’s job a whole lot more stressful.
There were questions going around about the direction that this program would now be headed in, what they were going to do to amend the situation, how would Dunlap handle it, etc.
But already, the Lions might have their answer.
Munis Tutu, the #1 ranked Canadian prospect in the 2015 class according to North Pole Hoops, announced his commitment to Loyola Marymount. And just like that, angels were singing for the Lions. Days after Payne announced his departure, they locked up an under-the-radar star guard who could lead this program to something special.
Tutu, from Windsor, Ontario, is a player that is solid on both ends of the court, playing lockdown defense while also controlling the offense. As reported by NPH, he originally thrived in the transition game, but has developed the ability to manage a game, control the tempo, and lead his team.
He’s increased his shooting ability throughout the 2014-15 season, and though he still has some work to do in that department, he’s in a great position at Loyola Marymount.
But why is he in such a great position to thrive with the Lions?
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Simply put: Mike Dunlap is one of the best player development coaches in the game. It’s what he specializes in, and with a player who has as much potential as Tutu, the sky is the limit. Though LMU is still in rebuilding mode, I truly believe that Munis made a great decision by choosing to work with Dunlap and join the Lions.
At 6’0, Tutu has great length, agility, foot speed, athleticism, and ball-handling skills. He can thrive in any area of the court. He has experience with the Canadian national team and excels on the American high school scene as well.
It’s interesting: Gonzaga is always the place that’s attracting young Canadian talent (Kevin Pangos, Kelly Olynyk, Robert Sacre). Now it’s Loyola Marymount’s turn. Tutu has the potential to match the play and talent level of the aforementioned Gonzaga stars. And he’s in good hands with Mike Dunlap at the helm of the program.
Welcome to the West Coast Conference and to Loyola Marymount, Munis Tutu. You’re going to do some special things here.