WALLA WALLA — There’s always the story, and then the story behind the story.
In 1995, in the Chukar Classic community college men’s basketball tournament at Treasure Valley in Ontario, Ore., the story was Tommy Lloyd’s 52-point explosion that established a new Walla Walla CC men’s single-game scoring record that still stands today.
The story behind the story, as Lloyd and his old coach, Jeff Reinland, fondly recall, actually began the day before.
"And it’s a funny story, too," recalled Lloyd, who is now in his 10th season as a fulltime assistant coach on the 17th-ranked Gonzaga University men’s basketball team.
"The day before we played Treasure Valley for the championship, I got KO’d," Lloyd continued. "It was still the first half, I was hot, and then I went down and had to come out. Fortunately, we were in control and went on to win the game."
The next morning, head injury and all, Lloyd was back on the court for WWCC’s shoot-around in anticipation of that night’s big game.
"This was way before concussions were a big deal, and I was going to play," Lloyd said.
The only problem was, Lloyd — by his standards, anyway — couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean that morning.
"We were running all our plays and I kept missing," he said. "We ran one play for me eight straight times and I missed them all.
"Coach Reinland was chipping at me until I finally made one. And then he said, ‘If you’re not ready to play, maybe it would be best for the team if you didn’t play.’ And I told him in so many words what I thought of that idea."
For his trouble, Lloyd was told to walk back to the team’s hotel. And when he got there, Reinland took him aside for a coach-to-player conversation.
"He told me that he wasn’t upset personally by how I responded, but he told me I couldn’t do it in front of the rest of the team," Lloyd said.
"By the end of our career together, Tommy was kind of like my own kid," remembered Reinland, who coached Lloyd for four high school seasons in Kelso, Wash., before taking him with him when he took the Warriors’ head coaching job in the fall of 1993.
"He practically lived in my house when we were in Kelso," Reinland said. "And he was confident letting me know what he thought. Most players wouldn’t do that."
As the story evolved, Lloyd was cleared to play that night and the coach relented.
"I didn’t want him to play," Reinland said. "But we took him to a doctor who said he was fine to play. So we let him play.
"And then he goes out and scores 52 points. I kind of had to eat crow on that one, but it’s a funny story now looking back."
After two seasons at WWCC, Lloyd accepted a scholarship to play at Southern Colorado University. But after one season in Colorado, he returned to Walla Walla and enrolled at Whitman College where he finished up his basketball playing career and graduated in 1998.
"It was not a great experience for me," Lloyd said of his one year at Southern Colorado. "But I knew coach (Skip) Molitor at Whitman and decided I wanted to come back closer to home. And Whitman was a great spot for me to land."
Gonzaga University, for obvious reasons, turned out to be another great spot for Lloyd to land. But it didn’t happen right away.
"After graduating from Whitman, I went and played professionally in Australia for one year," Lloyd said. "But I was getting ready to go into coaching and I had targeted a small NCAA Division I school as the place to begin. I just wanted the opportunity to help out as a volunteer."
That’s when Reinland re-entered the picture — as if he had ever left — and put Lloyd in touch with Gonzaga coach Don Monson. And Monson took Lloyd on as a volunteer coach.
"They were on a real limited budget back then," Lloyd recalled of the Zags. "They didn’t even have a secretary. They were looking for people to help out."
But at the last minute, an opportunity to play a second professional season, this time in Germany, presented itself.
"I was committed to coach Monson," Lloyd said. "But he said, ‘You’re crazy to work for me. Go play in Germany, and help me find some players.’"
So Lloyd did. And he did. Although Monson wouldn’t be in Spokane to enjoy the fruits of Lloyd’s labors.
By the time Lloyd returned to the states, Monson had taken the head coaching position at the University of Minnesota and Mark Few had been promoted to head coach. And it was Few who added Lloyd to Gonzaga’s coaching staff as a graduate assistant.
"Coach Monson had told coach Few that there’s this Lloyd kid who wants to help out," Lloyd recalled. "And coach Few honored that."
And considering the connections Lloyd established in his two seasons overseas and his understanding of the European game, it proved to be a smart hire for all concerned.
Although Lloyd, who became a full-time Gonzaga assistant coach prior to the 2001-02 season, down plays his singular role in the recruiting process, it’s widely regarded that he has been crucial in the Zags’ ability to attract top foreign players to Spokane. The list includes Ronny Turiaf of France, the 1995 West Coast Conference Player of the Year, and Germany’s Elias Harris, a true freshman and the second-leading scorer on this year’s team.
Four other members of this year’s squad — redshirt sophomores Robert Sacre and Bol Kong and true freshmen Kelly Olynyk and Mangisto Arop — are Canadians.
"Recruiting is always a team effort, and I don’t want to be singled out," Lloyd said. "It’s not like we have specific (recruiting) designations, but like anything else you recruit where you have developed your own network. And I’ve been able to travel a lot when I was younger and play in Europe.
"But I don’t believe I am a common denominator."
His boss tends to disagree.
"Tommy has been one of the main reasons our player base has expanded outside of the United States," Few is quoted in Gonzaga’s men’s basketball media guide. "He has an uncanny knowledge of the international talent and the international game. He is connected overseas with coaches at all levels, which has greatly enhanced our recruiting abroad."
The day might come when Lloyd makes the leap and becomes a head coach. But for now, he’s happy right where he’s at.
"When you have a great thing going, you have to be pretty selective about finding something else," Lloyd said. "Because you may never find something better. You don’t want selfish motives to take over and force you to leave something that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be involved in."
Reinland sees it much the same way.
"Tommy has the potential to be a head coach at that level, but I don’t know that he has the desire to do that," Reinland said. "He just loves it at GU. He loves coach Few, and it’s a great fit.
"They have it rolling up there. There’s something to be said of walking out of the gym a winner 80-to-85 percent of the time."
Kind of like walking out of the gym after going off for 52 points. But that’s another story.