After practice on Tuesday, Gonzaga Prep boys basketball coach Matty McIntyre called for conditioning wind sprints.
He ran the Pups hard, and when a couple of the bigs didn’t finish the drill in the allotted time, the whole team had to run them again.
Leading the pack, physically and emotionally, was Liam Lloyd.
The 6-foot-5 senior wing was first to finish the first set of sprints, and as he hustled into the finish line he looked over his shoulder and shouted encouragement to the few that were struggling to keep up.
“C’mon boys!” he shouted.
As McIntyre allowed the squad to recover – briefly – before the punishment laps, Lloyd was still chirping at his team.
“We’re better than this!” he extolled.
All of this was in eyesight and earshot of the entire junior varsity and freshman teams waiting to take their turn on the practice court.
“It’s his team,” McIntyre said after practice. “Liam’s the unquestioned leader in everything that we do. We’re going to rely on him to try to maintain the culture that we’ve established.”
That culture includes a 102-6 record over the past four seasons.
“My role has definitely changed – a lot,” Lloyd said, once he caught his breath after the workout. “I’ve got to lead the younger guys. We have a lot of juniors on the team and two sophomores, and we only have three seniors – and I’m the only returning senior – so I have the most experience so I’ve got to lead with my actions and my words.”
It’s a tall task – maintaining that culture – considering G-Prep returns just two players off last year’s squad which won its second consecutive State 4A championship and graduated all-everything Anton Watson, who dropped the “Prep” off his jersey and is now wearing the uniform of perennial top-10 powerhouse Gonzaga.
For the past two seasons, Lloyd has been a complementary piece to Watson – the 2019 “Mr. Basketball” for the state, State 4A player of the year and two-time state tourney MVP – and the abnormally large senior class of 2019 at G-Prep, which included point guard Jacob Parola, Sheadon Byrd, Carter Sonneborn and, originally, Jamaari Jones, who missed his senior year to injury.
“(Watson) is a once-in-a-lifetime player,” McIntyre said. “And so you never expect someone to replace Anton. And then, a lot of those guys leaving that he played with, all of his buddies, those are darn good players that sometimes didn’t get the credit that they probably deserved.
“I just want Liam to be true to himself. I don’t expect him to be like Anton or act like Anton. Anton had a really unique ability to make people better around him. And that’s the message for Liam and our guys is that they have to continue to live out that tradition and that legacy that Anton left behind.”
Is Lloyd ready for that?
“Liam’s up to the task,” McIntyre boasted. “I’ve been very impressed with him the first eight days of practice – the way he’s doing things on the court, the way he’s communicating with his teammates. I’ve been thrilled.
“His biggest challenge this year that we’ve talked about multiple times will be: Can he make the people around him better? That will be the true test of leadership and ultimately get us where we want to go.”
“I definitely play with a lot of passion,” Lloyd said. “And that’s, I think, a good thing. So I’m excited to bring that passion this year.”
In some other programs, Lloyd would have been the featured player from the time he stepped onto the varsity team. The pedigree is there. He is, after all, son of longtime Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd.
He has already committed to coach Dan Majerle and Grand Canyon University for next season.
“My dad definitely wanted it to be my own decision,” Lloyd said. “He kind of left it up to me to talk to all the coaches, and he kind of wanted to like stay out of it as much as he could – until they called him (directly) about me.”
With Watson at the next level and his college choice decided upon, Lloyd’s finally “the man” at G-Prep.
“He’s just a great kid,” McIntyre said of his free-spirited senior.
“I really think that this opportunity with this team being his – and no one would ever question that – that has given him an opportunity to grow in other ways, as well. So I think it will serve him well, and I think he’s going to be a big part of leading this young, youthful group.”
Lloyd is ready for the added responsibilities.
“I’ve grown up with a bunch of pressure my whole life, just growing up with my dad as a coach and all that stuff, so I always have people watching me. I just think the pressure is just natural now, so it comes easy, I guess.”
There aren’t that many players that get a chance to win three straight state titles as Lloyd does.
“I mean, for sure it’s something I think about – something I’d definitely like to accomplish. So I’m going to give it my all this year. We’re gonna try to get that back.”
McIntyre acknowledged that there are some that might think G-Prep is vulnerable with Watson moving on, but he’s undaunted by the new challenges.
“I’m going to get my joy from watching these 11 guys getting better over the course of the three months,” he added. “I think that we will be a hard team to beat by the end of the season, and I’m excited to see the growth.”
Lloyd’s anxious to get started and put his stamp on this team.
“Anton taught me a lot of the great leadership skills that he has, like leading with his actions. Anton’s a quiet leader. I guess I could be more of a vocal leader this year so I’m excited.”
Alphabetic order, last year’s record.
Central Valley (13-11, 7-7): Second-team all-league guard Jayce Simmons and three-year starter Quinn Johnson, both seniors, form a formidable backcourt, while 6-foot-10 junior big man Gavin Gilstrap will clog up the middle on defense. “The team gained needed experience last year,” second-year coach Mike Laws said. “We have grown up and have seven seniors. A number of players got a taste of playoff basketball.”
Ferris (16-7, 10-4): Sean Mallon returns for his fourth season and brings back two honorable mention all-league players: 6-4 junior guard Cole Omlin and 6-5 senior forward McCoy Spink, along with senior guard Zach Fleming, who returns after missing most of his junior year with a broken hand. “We have some veterans but by and large we’re a very young roster,” Mallon said. “This is a group that just hasn’t played a lot of basketball together yet.”
Lewis and Clark (8-12, 5-9): Coach Jim Redmon, in his 22nd year, has just two letter winners coming back with all five seniors moving on. Senior 6-4 post Miles Heath will be counted on for minutes, while fellow seniors Matt Pfeifer and Joel Zylak hope to step up into starting roles. “We should shoot it well,” Redmon said. “We can play fast but lack size and experience. If we play together we’re a team that will compete.”
Mead (3-17, 2-12): Seven letter winners return for coach Glenn Williams’ 22nd season, including senior starters Tyson Rogallete and Brandon Shoff. Junior Sam Wenkheimer and sophomore Zack Reighard will also start. “We have good overall depth,” Williams said. “We have several kids who can make 3s, but we’re not particularly tall. We must rebound to contend this season.”
University (13-10, 7-7): Coach Garrick Phillips, in his 14th season, has a bit of a rebuild on his hands – he lost five starters and six letter winners. Senior guards Adonis Winkler-Cody and Luke Hawley and junior guard Kyle Douglas should be leaders. Sophomore point guard Jeremiah Sibley and 6-7 transfer sophomore Conrad Bippes (CV) will contribute meaningful minutes right away. “Shooting will be a strength,” Phillips said, “but we will have to learn to be a consistent defensive team in order to compete in a strong GSL.”