MCGILL: Loop Carries Records, Father's Lessons Into Title Game|
March 11, 2017
By Chuck McGill
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The spirit of DeWayne Loop was inside Legacy Arena on Friday night.
In the final minute of Marshall’s 93-77 win against Louisiana Tech in the semifinals of the Conference USA men’s basketball tournament, Herd guard Austin Loop collected the ball and had nothing standing in between him and an emphatic dunk to punctuate the team’s berth into Saturday night’s championship game. Instead, Loop picked up his dribble, turned around and tossed the ball to fellow senior Ryan Taylor, who threw down an emotional two-handed slam as the crowd roared.
The official scorebook shows Austin Loop with the assist. His father should get credit too.
“DeWayne would be so proud of him,” said Robbin Loop, Austin’s mother. “He loved sports, but our top priority for our boys was to be good human beings and do well in school. I think ball is icing on the cake.
“DeWayne told the boys to work hard to get what you want because it’s not going to be given to you, and to be kind to people. Even if we didn’t have a lot of money, if someone needed help DeWayne would find a way to help them. Our family, we don’t have lots of money, but we have a lot of love.
“That showed at the end of the game. Austin could’ve made a dunk but he didn’t. He handed it off to his buddy. That’s the way he is.”
DeWayne Loop died Dec. 20, 2014, after being diagnosed in May of that year with Stage 4 cancer of the esophagus, stomach and liver. He was 56. Austin Loop, Marshall’s 6-foot-3 sharp-shooter who holds the program record for career 3-pointers, found out about his father’s passing while on a bus after the team had lost on the road against Arkansas State.
Now Austin sits one game from a Conference USA championship and the automatic NCAA tournament berth that comes with it. He is Marshall’s all-time leading 3-point shooter with 289 makes. In Friday night’s semifinal, Austin made 6 of 8 from 3-point range, moving him past 39 players on the NCAA Division I career list for 3-pointers. Austin, once a walk-on who spent a redshirt season determining whether or not he wanted to stick with D-I hoops, is living in a moment he didn’t even dare to ponder.
It might seem unbelievable to some. It wouldn’t have been to one person.
“I don’t think my dad would’ve been surprised a bit,” Austin said. “He knew I was going to work hard enough and I was going to put in the time. He knew I had the skill to do it. He would’ve known more than I ever would’ve dreamed of happening.”
Austin, 23, enters what could be his final collegiate game with staggering numbers. He only played 13 games and logged 75 minutes – just shy of two full games – as a freshman, but holds the Marshall records for 3-pointers (289) and 3-pointers attempted (705). He ranks fourth and sixth, respectively, in C-USA history in those categories. He has also cracked the top 250 3-point shooters in college basketball history, and he can sneak into the top 200 with four more 3s. He isn’t just chucking up wild shots, either. He is a 41 percent 3-point shooter for his career – fifth in Herd history. He has 108 made 3s this season, making him one of only two players in program history (Keith Veney did it twice) to hit triple digits in that category.
Not bad for a former walk on who will earn degrees this year in biomechanics and clinical exercise physiology. DeWayne Loop would’ve beamed to see his boy become the first Marshall player to earn conference all-academic honors three times.
“I have been very blessed,” Austin said. “I caught some breaks along the way. I never dreamed of breaking records; it never crossed my mind. What happened with my dad … it drove me more than anything. It never affected me negatively in basketball or school.”
Austin came to Marshall from South Webster, Ohio, where he was a multi-sport standout. DeWayne’s roots were in baseball, and Austin’s older brother, Wesley, flourished in the sport. Austin, however, fell in love with basketball.
“From a small age Austin had a ball in his hand dribbling 24/7,” Robbin said. “At 2 years old he could dribble like you wouldn’t believe. I had brothers who played college ball and we had a family of coaches. My brother played at Ohio University and he’s coached 30-some years in high school. My uncle, he coached for 20-some years in high school. I played basketball in high school.
“We’re a sports family, and when Austin picked up a ball when he was 2, that’s all he ever wanted to do.”
The hours on ball fields and courts have funneled toward Saturday night’s 40 minutes against No. 1 seed Middle Tennessee. From the preseason press conference through the week leading up to his final regular season game at the Henderson Center, Austin talked about winning a championship.
“I’m missing a ring,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s the goal. That’s what you work for from the summer on and into the offseason. You just keep grinding. This season has been a little bit of a rollercoaster. We’ve been hot at times and we’ve struggled. But ultimately you want to get hot at the right time and make a run.”
That is what Austin and his teammates have accomplished here this week. They’ve won three games in three days to reach the championship game. They discarded the second and third seeded teams from the bracket. They’ll likely breeze past the C-USA tournament record for 3-pointers by a team.
And maybe, just maybe, this story will end with the guy who was taught to give to others receiving something he always wanted: a ring.
“I know,” Robbin said. “DeWayne is up there in heaven smiling and partying.”