Drew Valentine can’t find his car keys. He has just finished polishing off breakfast at a Marriott buffet and needs to skedaddle. It’s a little past 8:30 in the morning, LakePoint Champions Center is a 25-minute ride without factoring in the notorious Atlanta-area traffic and Valentine has a recruit to watch in a 9:15 game. He unzips the pocket on top of his backpack, slaps his pants pockets and rechecks the backpack yet again before pausing. “Oh right,’’ he says. “I valeted.’’
This is not necessarily a terrible brain camp considering Valentine is working on the fumes of July recruiting. Except he went through this near exact drill about 15 minutes earlier. “See?” he says. “This is my brain. It doesn’t stop.’’
There is plenty for the new Loyola Chicago coach to think about. He is driving a veritable mid-major Bugatti, inheriting a program steeped in success, name-brand recognition and tradition, not to mention boosted this particular year by the return of four super seniors off a team that made it to the Sweet 16. It is about as sweet as a starting point that a 30-year-old, the youngest coach in Division I, could wish for. Valentine is not foolish enough to complain about his good fortune. In the course of a morning spent bouncing from court to court watching recruits, Valentine says more than once how grateful he is, and how he could not imagine starting without what he has. But he’s also a realist. He recognizes that such a cushy launchpad robs him of any shot of easing into this head-coaching thing. His Ramblers could very well debut in the Top 25, which means new or not, Valentine will be expected to produce.”Keeps me up nights,’’ he says.
The good news, that’s not unusual. Though that overactive brain can occasionally track scattered, it also leads to near hyper amounts of production. People have taken to calling Valentine “Porter 2.0,” because Porter Moser’s former assistant bringing the same sort of hyperkinetic energy to the job that the notoriously go-go-go Moser embodied before heading off to Oklahoma.
Valentine’s mind pings with ideas all day long. Most mornings he wakes up, scrolls his phone for news — basketball, the latest Kardashian drama, politics — and opens his notes app. It’s filled with his musings and to-do lists, all separated by category. He might send an inspirational text to a player, or sketch out plans for a new graphic to hype Loyola’s successes before he even gets out of bed. Car rides are more mobile business office, or time for more ruminations. His ride to LakePoint, for example, is not so much a commute as it is “25 minutes of idea time,’’ and he has the unique ability to simultaneously watch a basketball game, hold a conversation about his sneaker obsession while spying a player in his peripheral vision swing a pass so sweet that he can’t help but remark, “He’s playing his ass off,”’ before continuing the conversation as if he hadn’t even paused.
When athletic director Steve Watson did tell Valentine the job was officially his, confirming what had been an expected succession plan, Valentine’s immediate reaction? “Let’s fucking go.” Which he did, from an April 3 agreement to the press conference three days later to Zoom calls with returning underclassmen, potential super seniors, parents and recruits.