March 11, 2015
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an exclusive feature interview with Notre Dame’s junior women’s basketball standout. A 5-10 native of Lincolnwood, Illinois, Loyd averages 20.5 points and 5.4 rebounds during the 2014-15 season and was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and the ACC Tournament Most Valuable Player.
Tennis was the first sport I ever really played competitively. When I’m home we go out and play doubles–me and my dad against my brother and my mom. I had a chance to go further with tennis, but my love for basketball kind of overpowered that. People hated playing me because I could get to everything.
Soccer was my second sport. I started playing soccer because my brother (Jarryd) played. I played in the front yard, in middle school and in high school. But by the time I started playing travel basketball and AAU, I decided I just needed to stick with basketball.
I always played basketball at the park, but I started playing competitively in sixth grade. I was playing for fun. I wasn’t playing to get a scholarship. We played because our friends were there. Once I got to high school I got more serious about basketball. After my sophomore year I quit playing tennis and I started receiving letters for basketball. My brother played basketball overseas for a while, but after my sophomore year in high school he ended up coming back. Having him around and being able to work out with him made me really find my love for basketball. I realized this was what I wanted to do.
We had a good system with recruiting. Coaches would call my high school coach, and he had a list of schools that I had approved and wanted to go to. Then he would call my dad and it would kind of go through the line–my dad, my mom, my brother and then me. I would end up talking to the coaches I really wanted to talk to – so I wasn’t really bombarded with emails or anything like that. I did it that way because I still wanted to be a kid.
My first time on the Notre Dame campus was my freshman year in high school when we were here for team camp. After that they (Notre Dame) started sending me letters. I knew (2011-12 Irish co-captain) Devereaux Peters because she was from Chicago, and I watched her play all the time. I talked to her all the time, I still do now and she became my best friend through the recruiting process. Coming here on my visit, I knew (2014-15 Irish co-captain) Whitney Holloway because we played AAU together. So everything all kind of fell together.
I grew up watching my brother play basketball. I didn’t really watch basketball (on TV), I went to his games. I spent a lot of time at Valparaiso (Jarryd played for the Crusaders from 2004-08), we went to every home game, we went to every tournament game. So I grew up watching him. My dad was a big Magic Johnson fan, so we watched the Lakers and then Kobe (Bryant). Growing up in Illinois, Candace Parker (from Naperville, Illinois, she played at Tennessee and now in the WNBA) was a really big deal, and so when I was in high school I’d watch her if I had a chance. She was making history.
I wanted to come to a program in college where I could come in and play. I wanted to see the floor. When I came to Notre Dame I was blessed because there were three open spots since they’d graduated three seniors (Peters, Brittany Mallory and Natalie Novosel) from a team that went to the NCAA Final Four. I learned right away from (former Irish All-American) Skylar (Diggins). I knew if I wanted to play I had to learn from the best. I was always under her wing. She’d turn around and I’d be right there. She really mentored me and she helped me get that starting spot. If I wasn’t doing homework or shooting, I was with her. She and I would text and she gave me some tips that helped me get on the floor.
I guarded Skylar all the time in practice–and if I wasn’t guarding her I guarded K-Mac (2013-14 captain and All-American Kayla McBride). It was great training because Skylar was one of the great guards in college basketball. She changed college sports dramatically, and I guarded her every single day not knowing that. Oh, somebody’s got to guard Skylar? Well, I’ll do it. It helped me so much.
I definitely live a normal life. I’m very under the radar. I walk around with my hood on and my music and I just go. I don’t shy away from the publicity–you hear it on Twitter. But I’m not all about that–it just comes with success. I’m very low-key. A lot of time people won’t even know I’m in the classroom. I do what I need to do.
What you took away from Skylar was the intensity in her game. She’s still like that when she comes back and practices with us. She plays every possession like it’s her last. When you are young and you are a freshman, you don’t really understand that until you play in some big games. My freshman year we had some really close big games. We played UConn all those times and it just seemed like every single game was close. We came to understand that early, so we knew why she (Skylar) was yelling at us. You needed to have that sense of urgency and we really didn’t see that in the summer when you’re just playing against yourselves. Once the conference games started, we understood.
If I have extra time in the gym, I work on my ball-handling. You can always improve your ball-handling. The fact that I started basketball so late, I never really trained. I never had a trainer. My trainer now is my brother because he’s here. I always just played. Now I really focus on fundamentals. I go in the gym and work on fundamentals of shooting and fundamentals of ball-handling. Two dribbles and a jump stop–just really simple things like that. Plus, I’ll work on fade-aways or post moves or up and unders–things that maybe people don’t expect to see from guards. I go through Kobe workouts and do what he does. I go through Dirk Nowitzki shooting workouts. Then I have my own set of workouts that my brother and I created, personally made for me – the J-stuff, we call it.
I love it out there on the court, it’s my craft. It’s my escape when I’m frustrated outside of basketball. Maybe I’m mad because I thought I should have gotten an A-plus instead of an A-minus in a class and I take it out by blocking a shot. I use basketball as an outlet. That’s why Skylar played with so much passion. That separates a lot of people when they play sports.
Superstitions? If my family’s not at my game, I usually call my dad first after the game and then my brother. Then, before every game I have a juice box–apple juice.
I’m really basic. I don’t do anything out of the ordinary. I’m always chilling and my friends make fun of me. I’m just home with the family or my friends and just having fun. I’m like a big kid. I love Nerf basketballs. Anything you can find at Walgreens in the kids’ section. I’m always there. If we go to the store now, my mom knows where to find me. I’m in the kids’ section trying to buy toys that will break in two days. I like to bring out the kid in everybody.
I picked up the piano in high school. I learned a little bit and any time I’m home I’ll mess around a little with it. If I can sit down for maybe an hour, I can get out a song. But I can’t just sit down and play Mozart.
I try not to stress about anything. I have a really good circle of friends and family that can help me with just about anything. If I stress about school, my mom was a teacher and she gives me an outlet. If I’m frustrated about basketball, I talk to my brother. He’s been through it all. I grew up with 10 guys and we’ve been friends since we were six months old, so I know I can go to them. It’s a really good circle. Plus, I’m only an hour and a half away from home and that helps a lot.
— John Heisler, Senior Associate Athletics Director