Feb. 27, 2014
By Matt Muzza, Navy Sports Information
"You just have to do whatever the team needs you to do."
Those words, spoken by James Loupos, could be the mantra of Navy's two-man senior class.
Loupos and classmate Thurgood Wynn have combined to play over 200 games for Navy and are on the verge of closing out their college basketball careers. Going from the scout team to the starting lineup, and then back to the scout team again, this duo has experienced many highs and lows during their time in Annapolis.
Surely every college basketball player wants to be on the court when the game is on the line, making the big plays or hitting the game-winning shots. But the true value that a player brings to his team can be revealed in other ways.
"Thurgood and James haven't started every game for us or played every minute, yet they've both kept great positive attitudes," said Navy head coach Ed DeChellis. "Both guys are team players on and off the basketball court. They've also done a good job trying to lead the young guys in the locker room."
After being the oldest players on a team with no seniors last season, Loupos and Wynn have grown accustomed to holding leadership roles.
"It's important for Thurgood and me to fill that leadership role for the younger guys to look up to," said Loupos. "You do need that upperclassman figure who's been through it all and who can teach the younger guys."
Navy's younger players can look to Loupos (a political science major) and Wynn (an economics major) as examples of how to play with selfless attitudes and how to put the team first.
"You just have to do whatever the team needs you to do," said Loupos. "Whether that's to go out and play 40 minutes, whether that's to stay after practice to put extra shots up, or whether that's playing on the scout team so the guys can learn the other team's plays. The team always comes first and it's all about making the team better."
Earlier this season Loupos and Wynn were seeing more time on the scout team in practice than they were in games.
Wynn played in only five of Navy's first 10 games while scoring a total of just four points. Loupos had a nine-game stretch in which he played just 3.4 minutes per game.
Wynn had started 28 games as a small forward as a junior. Loupos, a post player, started 15 games as a sophomore and 12 as a junior. One might think that two seniors who had started that many games in their careers would take a relegation to the scout team poorly, but the two future Naval officers did just the opposite.
Both players brought renewed energy to practice and used their experience to quickly learn the offensive and defensive sets of their opponents. They mimicked the other team's top players in practice and gave Navy's starters the best possible opportunity to prepare for each upcoming opponent.
"At first I was mad that I wasn't playing," said Wynn. "I wanted to be out there with the guys, feeling the adrenaline of the game and doing things to help us win games.
"But then I looked at it as a way to get better as a player. I used practices and running the scout team to help with my ball handling or other parts of my game. I started treating practices like games. Instead of playing one or two games a week, I was treating it like I was playing five or six with the practices."
And when DeChellis called their numbers at the beginning of conference play, Loupos and Wynn were ready.
Navy opened the Patriot League season at Loyola and Loupos was in the starting lineup for the first time all season. Loupos played a season-high 34 minutes and had seven points, five rebounds and drew four offensive charges. Wynn scored 15 points while logging 22 minutes off the bench. Although the Mids came up just short in overtime, the two seniors provided a huge spark.
Navy's next game was against 2013 Patriot League runner-up Lafayette. Once again, Loupos started at the center position and Wynn logged significant minutes off the bench. The seniors came through again with Wynn tallying 15 points to help Navy to a 79-71 win.
Loupos and Wynn then helped the team break an eight-game losing streak to the defending Patriot League Champion Bucknell, 62-61,on January 15.
The Army-Navy Star Game was contested in West Point on February 8 and after a spirited Navy effort resulted in a 79-57 victory, it was Loupos and Wynn that were called to center court to accept the Alumni Trophy before carrying the hardware into the mob of celebrating teammates.
Loupos made a couple big plays in the Star Game and it took a wild swinging elbow by an Army center to finally get him off the court as he had to retreat to the locker room needing stitches to close his lip.
A week later Loupos scored eight points and played solid defense in Navy's 71-61 win over Colgate on February 15 and drew the praise of DeChellis in the post-game press conference.
"I thought James may have just played his best game of the year," commented DeChellis. "He did it all in terms of scoring the basketball, being aggressive when rebounding the ball and playing good defense."
When Navy was struggling to find offense at Holy Cross on February 23, it was Wynn who put the team on his back by scoring 11 straight points as the team clawed back into the contest. Wynn finished with a team-high 14 points, all of which came in the second half.
"Throughout the season we've shown glimpses of what this team can be," said Wynn. "One of our goals is to build up confidence and translate that into a postseason run. We have the tools to do it. If we play hard and we play together, that's not out of our reach."
It has been 13 years since Navy advanced in the Patriot League postseason tournament and a deep run this season would be the perfect way for Loupos and Wynn to close out their playing careers. The two seniors want nothing more than to finish on a positive note.
After doing everything they could to best serve the Navy basketball program over the past four years, Loupos and Wynn will begin serving their country in the coming months.
Loupos will be a naval aviator and Wynn will be an information professional working with computers and networking. Loupos will report to Pensacola, Florida to begin his pilot training and Wynn will be stationed at the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C.
With Loupos going into aviation, he will serve in the U.S. Navy for at least 10 years - with a required eight coming after earning his pilot wings.
But true to form, he will make one last contribution to the Navy basketball program before reporting to Florida.
Loupos will be temporarily assigned to a position with the basketball team over plebe summer. Among other duties, he will be working with the incoming players and assisting with the team during sports period.
"Once the season is over it's going to be tough to hang it up," admitted Loupos. "But I'll get to be around basketball a little bit more and help some of the incoming freshmen get through plebe summer. I'll do anything I can to help with the new guys or help the current guys. I'm really excited for it."
It should come as no surprise to see such selfless players already planning ways to give back to the program - before they've even left.
Notes: A version of this story will appear in the 2014 Patriot League Men's Basketball Tournament Game Program. Thurgood Wynn and James Loupos will be honored during a senior day ceremony prior to the Navy-Loyola game on Saturday.