Who Could Step Up To Help Loyola Men’s Basketball Replace Santi Aldama?

The Loyola men’s basketball team’s depth chart took a major hit with the departure of forward Santi Aldama, who was taken 30th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft and is now with the Memphis Grizzlies.

But despite losing their top player to the professional ranks, the Greyhounds are poised to make a mark on the Patriot League after going 6-11 overall last year in a conference-only schedule. The Greyhounds also made an appearance in the Patriot League championship game.

Loyola head coach Tavaras Hardy sees Aldama’s departure as a major step forward for the program and believes that sending a talented player to the NBA is a sign of a positive change for the program. Aldama averaged 21.2 points and 10.1 rebounds for the Greyhounds last year.

“There’s absolutely zero bad,” Loyola head coach Tavaras Hardy said of losing Aldama to the NBA on Glenn Clark Radio Oct. 29.

“The big part of our athletic success, the way we define it is, are we competing for championships and are we producing pros? With Santi being a first-round NBA draft pick, I say yes,” Hardy added. “… Yeah, it’s going to be different without him, but we’ll be just fine. All of our guys are happy, all of our coaches [and] administration is happy.”

Loyola’s roster is well equipped to make up for the impact of the 6-foot-11 Spanish forward, who made his NBA regular-season debut in late October. Guards Cam Spencer and Jaylin Andrews and forwards Golden Dike and Alonso Faure are all set to make big contributions for the Greyhounds this season.

Spencer, a junior and brother of former Loyola lacrosse star and Northwestern basketball guard Pat Spencer, is a key piece for this year’s squad. After a strong freshman year, Spencer played in just five games during the 2020-21 season due to injury troubles.

When he was on the court, however, his impact was impossible to ignore. He facilitated well and showed the ability to help the team in multiple ways. He averaged 10.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in last year’s abbreviated campaign.

“He’s critical. He’s had a couple of years where he’s been a little banged up,” Hardy said. “I told him [Oct. 28] in practice, ‘We’re 16-9 in the games that you’ve played with us,’ and so obviously his impact on winning is critical.

“What I really want out of him, though, is not to feel like you have to take on Santi’s role or you have to take on Andrew Kostecka’s role. You helped those guys be good, and that’s what I need you to do for all of our players. … Super excited to have Cam back in the fold. He’s so important to what we do.”

Aldama’s fellow Spaniards on Loyola’s roster — sophomore forward Alonso Faure and junior forward Golden Dike — will play crucial roles as well. Faure is poised for a breakout season after a strong debut as a freshman, and Dike is an imposing figure under the basket (6-foot-10, 248 pounds) as he looks to lock down rebounding and scoring opportunities.

Dike averaged 7.1 points and 6.2 rebounds last year, while Faure averaged 5.2 points and 3.6 rebounds.

“Faure, I consider him one of our seven freshmen because last year was so awkward and we played half the year,” Hardy said. “He didn’t even get here until late December thanks to rules in the United States [related to student visa restrictions].”

“He came in and just got thrown right in. We don’t run the easiest stuff, and to try to pick that up in a couple weeks and then play a game, it’s not easy,” he added. “To his credit, he’s really smart and I’m expecting a big-time year out of him.”

Senior guard Jaylin Andrews has improved in every season he has played with the Greyhounds. He averaged 11.6 points and 4.9 rebounds last year as a junior. His experience will give the team a boost in the backcourt. He should provide an adept scoring touch as well.

“We’re expecting Jaylin to be a senior and one of the best players in our conference, if not the best player on our team,” Hardy said, adding that he is “expecting Jaylin to be like [other talented senior Patriot League guards] and will us to those wins in our tight games because it’s his time. He’s been through it. He knows what we’re trying to do.”

Loyola begins its season at North Carolina Nov. 9.

For more from Hardy, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credits: Jaylin Andrews: Carlisle Stockton; Golden Dike: Larry French; Alonso Faure: Larry French; Cam Spencer: Stockton Photo, Inc.