Loyola's trip to Italy comes at perfect time

CHICAGO -- Loyola’s style of basketball was often difficult to watch during Ramblers coach Porter Moser’s first season.

The Ramblers played slow, and they played sloppy mostly due to inexperience and lack of depth at point guard. They ranked 329th in the country with 62.7 possessions per game and 243rd with 14.4 turnovers per game.

The Ramblers plan to display a completely different pace of basketball during their four-game exhibition tour in Italy, which began this week.

The 24-second shot clock will certainly force Loyola to play faster, but its two new point guards will be just as vital to the quickened pace. With the addition of junior Cully Payne, who sat out last season after transferring from Iowa, and touted freshman Jeff White, who played at Peoria Manual, Loyola is hopeful its point-guard play will be a strength this season.

“I think we’ll be quicker,” said Loyola senior forward Ben Averkamp, who averaged 15.4 points and 7.1 rebounds last season. “I think you’ll see we’ve be able to get up and down a lot more. We can run two point guards.”

Payne is excited just to get back to playing competitive basketball. He played five games in the 2010-2011 season at Iowa due to an injury and sat out all of last season.

“I think more than anything it helps me as a person,” said Payne, who started 32 games for Iowa as a freshman. “I’m happy when I’m on the court. I love it. It’s kind of what I do. I’m just excited.”

Because Loyola is implementing two new point guards and seven newcomers total with Payne, six freshmen and one junior-college transfer, the Ramblers’ trip to Italy couldn’t have come at a better time. Loyola had 10 practices leading up to its departure and will play four teams in four cities over a two-week span in Italy.

Loyola defeated the Italy All-Stars in Rome on Tuesday and will play Pallacanestro Bassano del Grappa in Bassano del Grappa on Saturday, Zepa Marostica in Treviso on Aug. 20 and Legnano Basket in Como on Aug. 22.

“I have no doubt the talent level has risen in our program, but still half the team is freshmen,” said Moser, whose team went 7-23 last season. “These practices are invaluable.”

Averkamp gets Loyola will be young, but he’s optimistic the Ramblers will be much improved for his senior season. He and Jordan Hicks are the team’s only seniors.

“I understand they’re young and have a lot being thrown at them, but in the same respect for Cully and I and especially Jordan, who has been here five years -- he’s been through everything -- we see an importance to this year,” Averkamp said. “Hopefully, this trip to Italy springboards us for the year.”