For the first two years of his high school career, Ibn Loyal _ and yes, that is his correct name _ attended Hudson Catholic in Jersey City and didn’t like the way things were progressing.
“When I first went to Hudson Catholic, I had a lot of high expectations,” said Loyal, whose first name is Muslim for “son of.”
“I lost all my confidence and that wasn’t a good thing,” Loyal said. “I needed to go somewhere to boost my confidence. I knew some of my friends went to Queen of Peace, so I went there.”
The transfer wasn’t an easy one.
“It was kind of hard at first, because I really didn’t know anyone at Queen of Peace,” Loyal said. “I knew I was going to have to start over. I was basically like a freshman again, only this time, I had only two years.”
Loyal’s basketball talent stood out right away in the eyes of head coach Christian Boyce.
“The first time I saw him working out in the gym, I noticed his size and then his athletic ability,” Boyce said. “But he had something you can’t teach. I was impressed with his communication skills, telling kids where to go, talking to the others. I saw that he fit in right away.”
Still, there was always an adjustment period.
“He had to get used to the new school environment,” Boyce said. “I definitely knew that he had talent. He just needed to get used to a new team, a new coach and a new school.”
After that transition period, Loyal started to feel more comfortable.
“I started off slow,” Loyal said. “It took me a while. I had to learn how my teammates played. I had to learn how Bergen County kids played compared to Hudson County kids. I had to adapt.”
In the final games of the season, Loyal was rewarded for his patience.
Loyal scored 27 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, collected six steals and had four blocked shots in the Golden Griffins’ win over Newark Academy in the opening round of the NJSIAA Non-Public B North playoffs.
Two days later, Loyal had 23 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots in the Griffins’ win over Morristown-Beard.
Last Saturday night, the Griffins had to take on the No. 1 team in the state, the Friars of St. Anthony and even though the game ended out in defeat for the Golden Griffins, Ibn earned the respect of his opponents, scoring 21 points and grabbing five rebounds.
For his efforts, Loyal has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Both Boyce and Loyal realize that the strong finish to the season will only help in Loyal’s development.
“He has to step into a leadership role on the team,” Boyce said. “He has to be assertive and lead by example. If he does that, he’ll be fine. He already has great court awareness and a high basketball IQ. He just needs to develop his jump shot and ball handling.”
Loyal knows he’s not a finished product.
“I’m already looking forward to next season,” Loyal said. “The last few games have given me a lot of confidence. I think that will carry on. I think it helped that I played pretty well against the No. 1 team in the state. It was actually a bittersweet moment for me, because I have friends on St. Anthony and couldn’t trash talk to them. But I proved that I can play at a higher level and doing it against the No. 1 team in the state meant a lot.”
Boyce said that he likes the way he gets along with Loyal.
“I think we have a great relationship,” Boyce said. “He’s a good kid. He’s still young. He’s only 15 years old, so he’s still growing. But he’s an intense kid. Now that he’s done well on the varsity level, he knows what he can do. He just can’t get distracted on the court. He has to keep his main focus.”
Boyce knows that his team will lose the school’s all-time leading scorer in Jeremy Joseph to graduation, but he now knows that he has a go-to scorer in Loyal to pick up the pieces. Boyce believes that Loyal can play college basketball.
“No doubt, he can play at a smaller (NCAA) Division I school,” Boyce said. “I’ve already had some discussions with some schools. He’s a good athlete, a good scorer with tremendous athletic ability. Losing Jeremy is tough from a leadership point. That’s where we need Ibn to step up and jumps into that role. I’m impressed with the way he finished the season.”
Loyal, whose real full name is Ibn Al-Quan Loyal, truly meaning the son of Al-Quan, likes having his unique name. It certainly allows him to stand out even before he steps onto the hardwood.
“I like being known as Ibn,” Loyal said. “I want to be known as myself.”
Loyal was asked if it was tough being a Muslim and going to a Catholic high school.
“I’m used to being in a Catholic environment,” Loyal said. “I’m glad I made the move. I’m happy here. I have a lot of friends here now. People have noticed me. I like the way things ended up.“
Queen of Peace junior forward Ibn Loyal. Photo by Jim Hague