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Loyola men’s basketball confident transfer Payne can ease burden on Averkamp

Updated: December 10, 2012 6:33AM

Ben Averkamp’s career at Loyola has been marked by ups and downs, from a promising freshman season when he excelled as a shot-blocker to the woes of last season when the Ramblers won only seven games.

Last season brought a coaching change as well as one more adjustment for the Germantown, Wis., native. But Averkamp now becomes a focus for his team as its most experienced player and the team leader second-year coach Porter Moser needs.

“We asked him to do so much last year,’’ Moser said of Averkamp, who was the first Rambler in five seasons to earn all-league honors last season. “He won’t have that pressure of doing everything.’’

Averkamp averaged 15.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists, but Moser is counting on a deep freshman class joining Averkamp and returning players Jordan Hicks and Joe Crisman to change the culture.

“There is definitely a different feel,’’ Averkamp said. “A lot has changed and from an on-court perspective, I’m excited. I’m encouraged by the new guys we have, but I’m the older one now and I know there will be times I have to be more vocal.’’

The most intriguing addition might be junior guard Cully Payne, a Schaumburg native who transferred from Iowa, where he made the Big Ten all-freshman team in 2010. Payne sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules, but practiced with the Ramblers.

“We didn’t have any guys who could create shots — but Cully can,’’ Moser said. “He can get guys shots and he loves the good assists. I want to have him look for his shot, but to have that ‘quarterback’ is ­important.’’

Payne hasn’t played in two ­seasons after missing his last year at Iowa with an injury before last year’s transfer. But he performed well during the team’s summer exhibition trip to Italy.

“He had 40 assists [in four games] in Italy,’’ Moser said. “Guys like playing with him, and Ben can see his game grow because [Payne] can create things.’’

Payne and Averkamp might be part of the reason the Ramblers were picked to improve to ­seventh in the nine-team league in ­preseason polls.

The Horizon League landscape will be different with the ­departure of Butler, which left to join the ­Atlantic 10. But that also could make the league more competitive overall.

“The league is better than last year,’’ Moser said. “We have to step up our program in every phase. There’s nothing to hide about that.’’

Moser is optimistic about his second season, but his long-range aspirations for Loyola are ambitious.

“I’m a coach who dreams,’’ the Naperville native said. “I grew up in the Ray Meyer days of DePaul [being nationally ranked.] You absolutely dream about what we could mean in Chicago. The city craves a Chicago team to step up, and I tell our guys, ‘Why not us?’ ’’

This season will have a special meaning for the school as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of its 1963 national championship. The Ramblers remain the only Illinois school to have won the NCAA title.

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