CHICAGO -- Porter Moser was curious to get a closer look at Loyola's campus while the school was still narrowing its coaching candidates in late March.
Moser was in the Chicago area recruiting as an assistant coach for Saint Louis, and he decided to swing by Loyola's campus in Rogers Park. Before embarking on a self-guided walking tour, he threw on a Chicago Cubs cap and lowered it to hide his identity, just in case.
Moser hadn't been to Loyola before. He used to come close when traveling on Sheridan Road to nearby Loyola Park when he played at Benet Academy in high school. He wasn't sure what he was going to find when he actually stepped onto campus.
Within minutes, Moser was sold. He was sold not only that Loyola was the place for him, but also the place for future recruits.
"I said, ‘Holy [bleep], to myself," Moser said on a recent afternoon over lunch. "I had no idea this was here. I had no idea it was on the lake.
"We've had 40 unofficial visits since I've had the job. I would almost say 100 percent say, 'I can't believe this campus is this nice.' I said the same thing. With the success the Horizon [League] is having; I can talk about the Jesuit education; I thought all the pieces were coming together. I thought the facilities were a cherry on the sundae for me."
When it comes to Loyola's campus construction and Gentile Central renovation, Moser is like a 6-year-old who knows Christmas is approaching. As he walks the campus, he points out each new facility.
When he gets to the $26 million Norville Center, he's even more eager to show the state-of-the-art weight room, training room and team locker room. It wasn't completely finished yet, but he was especially proud of his team room, which will include theatre seats for his players, a flat-screen television to review games and dry-erase boards covering nearly wall. It was like a teaching playground for him.
Since being hired in April, Moser has enjoyed a nice start to his Loyola tenure. Outside of hiring Michael Lewis as an assistant coach and then quickly losing him to Butler, Moser has plenty of reasons to smile. He's added Iowa transfer point guard Cully Payne and DePaul transfer forward Devin Hill to his roster. He also received commitments from four Class of 2012 players and one 2013 recruit. One 2012 recruit has since de-committed, but still is considering Loyola.
Payne was Moser's biggest haul. Payne started at Iowa as a freshman and sat out last season with an injury. Moser heard Payne was leaving Iowa just as he was being hired at Loyola.
"I didn't even hold a press conference yet, and I was calling [to make sure Payne got] his release from Iowa," Moser said. "There were so many things that made it a good fit. I inherited one player from Illinois. I certainly wanted to make a statement that I wanted an Illinois kid. Everyone knows Cully here. Then, he's that leadership position, that experience. Everything was a fit. No brainer."
As good as Moser feels now, this season may bring him down. Moser wouldn't go as far as saying it, but the Ramblers are likely on the verge of a rebuilding season.
Loyola does return junior 6-8 forward Ben Averkamp, who has the makings of a Horizon League star. He averaged 12 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.6 blocks last season.
All Moser has asked of Averkamp is to be meaner.
"He's the kind of son you want to marry your daughter," Moser said. "But it's okay when you step on those courts to have some nastiness, some toughness. You can be a nasty, hard-playing, physical SOB on the court, and you can be a high-character kid off the court."
Senior 6-8 forward Walt Gibler will also provide Loyola with another skilled big man.
Outside of that, Moser is dealing with an inexperienced team. He had planned to start senior Courtney Stanley at point guard, but he is now out for the season with a knee injury. Loyola's only remaining point guard on the roster is sophomore Denzel Brito, who averaged eight minutes last season.
Senior guard Jordan Hicks is also still working his way back from injury. He averaged 11.7 points in nine games last season before breaking his foot.
Freshman guard Joe Crisman and sophomore guard Chim Kadima will also be relied on in the backcourt.
With an unproven point guard, little depth and a schedule that includes DePaul, Illinois and Kansas State and seven of its first nine games on the road, Moser is careful about placing this season's expectations.
"When you have a coaching change, you know what the fans want," Moser said. "You know they're looking for any hope to grasp on. You see some coaches take over programs, and they're selling the biggest rainbow you've ever seen with what's going to happen.
"I've been there, done that. I've taken over two last-place program. We turned it pretty quickly at Little Rock. Illinois State was a little harder. I understand how these people are craving it. I have to have a fine line be able not build in false hope and let them totally be upbeat about the direction.
"The culture is changing. We have some pieces to the puzzle, but we need some other pieces."