One coach referred to Pat Spencer as college lacrosse’s version of LeBron, and many believe he’s the best player in the country. He’s a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award – lacrosse’s player of the year honor – for the third consecutive season. As if he needed further validation, the Loyola Maryland star was drafted with the first overall pick in the new Premier Lacrosse League college draft on April 24.
But he’s putting pro lacrosse on hold to play college hoops.
“He’s nice in basketball,” said former Kansas and NBA guard Josh Selby, who has played pickup against Spencer numerous times in Baltimore. “He can do everything: shoot, handle it, dunk and defend. I haven’t seen him play lacrosse, but he can hoop.”
Spencer has been a dominant lacrosse player since he stepped foot on Loyola’s campus as a freshman. He set the single-season freshman record with 89 points and was a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award as a sophomore after setting school and Patriot League records with 55 assists. As a junior, he racked up 59 assists and broke his own mark with 94 points.
Now he enters Saturday’s first-round NCAA tournament contest against Syracuse with 40 goals and 54 assists.
Spencer is laser-focused on trying to win an NCAA title, something that has eluded him throughout his career. After an NCAA semifinal appearance his freshman season, the Greyhounds – who won it all back in 2012 – were knocked out in the first round in ’17 and eliminated in the quarterfinals a year ago.
“That’s all I care about right now,” he said. “All the individual numbers are nice, but they don’t really matter. Winning a championship is what matters.”
But after his college lacrosse career ends, Spencer plans to put down the stick and throw around a different kind of ball. Sure, the last time the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Spencer played competitive basketball was his senior year at the Boys’ Latin School, when he averaged 14.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
“He’s a special athlete that doesn’t come around very often,” his high school coach Cliff Rees said. “I think so highly of him; I think he’s Superman.”
“My game in basketball is very similar to lacrosse,” Spencer added. “I have a high IQ and can make other guys around me better. I can score, have a good feel for the game and am more athletic than people think.”
If he’s anything close to what he is in lacrosse, then he’ll have no problem finding a home on a D-1 basketball roster as a grad transfer to play next season.
“His combination of size, athleticism, and technical skill make him extremely unique and special,” Lafayette lacrosse coach Pat Myers told Stadium. ” The physical, technical and tactical boxes are all checked. He has an incredible Lacrosse IQ and feel for the game, and just the fact that he is considering playing college basketball speaks to his freakish athleticism to go with his rare lacrosse skill set. Calling him the LeBron of college lacrosse is not far fetched, it’s a legit comparison.”
“Pat is the most complete attackman I have ever seen in all my years in lacrosse as a player and a coach,” Lehigh coach Kevin Cassese said.
Cassese was an All-American at Duke. He was taken second overall in the 2003 Major League Lacrosse Draft, became an All-Star and was an assistant coach at Duke before taking the reigns at Lehigh in ’08.
“Pat Spencer is the best player in the country,” added Navy coach Ryan Wellner. “He just plays the game so fluidly. He lets the game come to him and then attacks you in a way to negate how you were going to defend him. He plays off his teammates and the ball so well because he sees the game through a different lens.
“That’s what separates Pat from everyone else. I’ve watched him play pickup basketball here at the Academy over his breaks and he is just special.”
But few have watched Spencer play basketball the last four years. He’s played pickup against Selby and other pros at the UA Center in Baltimore. He excelled in the Annapolis Summer Basketball League, earning MVP honors, and also averaged 19 points in the Brunson League last summer. But the kid who had a late growth spurt in high school (he was 5-foot-4 as a freshman), the one who committed to Loyola prior to his junior year of high school, is a complete mystery on the hardwood. He didn’t play AAU ball in the summer because he was playing lacrosse.
Former Towson star and overseas player Kurk Lee, who runs the UA Center and played 48 NBA games, said Spencer wasted no time making an impression the first time he came down to play pickup a few years ago. Spencer got the ball on the break, Lee was defending him and went up to try and block the shot.
“He dunked right on top of me and everyone in the gym went crazy,” Lee said. “I had no idea who he was. I didn’t know he was the number one lacrosse player in the country. He doesn’t say a word about that.”
“He’s tough as nails,” Lee added. “I always put him against pros when he comes down and he holds his own.”
Spencer said he first thought of the idea of giving hoops a try after recalling that Greg Paulus went the football route for one season after playing four seasons of basketball at Duke.
“I know I can play anywhere,” Spencer said when asked at what level he could play hoops. “I’ve never had to sell myself, so this has been a weird process. I don’t enjoy this, having to sell myself, but I really believe I can play anywhere. It’s been a little frustrating.”
That’s because there’s no game tape of Spencer. It’s not as though he can go and work out for coaches since he’s been in the middle of his senior season in lacrosse. He has drawn interest from multiple schools since putting his name into the transfer portal back in December, but he said that he can’t move forward with visits until after lacrosse ends. One source said that Loyola Maryland Men’s Basketball Coach Tavaras Hardy would have interest, especially with Spencer’s younger brother, Cam, coming in as a freshman next season. However, there’s a Patriot League rule in place in which teams can’t take grad transfers; Pat would have to request a hardship waiver, which the league may approve at their discretion.
Spencer was the Preseason Player of the Year for a Loyola team that had lofty expectations. The Greyhounds (11-4) earned the No. 8 overall seed and will host Syracuse Saturday at 12 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in a game televised on ESPNU.
The new six-team Premier Lacrosse League will begin this season and the Archers wasted little time selecting Spencer with the top pick. The league will compete directly with Major League Lacrosse and also intends to compensate players far more than MLS. Spencer said that the top players could earn as much as six figures per season, but that hasn’t altered his plan of giving college hoops a try. Could he have professional options between the two sports a year from now?
“That money will still be there for him in a year,” said ESPN lacrosse analyst and former Johns Hopkins goalkeeper Quint Kessenich. “I’ve got a feeling he loves basketball more than lacrosse, and he realizes he’s got one shot. So, why not take a shot at it?”
“This is something I’ve thought about for a while,” Spencer said. “I know some people think I’m crazy, but I love basketball and really feel like I can play at the highest level.”