Chances are, University of Miami basketball fans don’t know a whole lot about Loyola-Chicago, whom the Hurricanes play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday afternoon in Dallas. Here are five things you should know about the Ramblers …
▪ 1. Their athletic director, Steve Watson, played basketball for UM coach Jim Larrañaga at Bowling Green University from 1989-91. They have remained in contact ever since, and Watson considers Larrañaga a valued mentor.
“I have to admit, when the bracket came out, and I saw that we were playing Miami, I rolled my eyes and thought, ‘Oh, man,’ ” said Watson, reached by phone Monday morning. “It’s going to be great to see Coach L and Mrs. L [Liz Larrañaga, the coach’s wife]. Coach L has been so very helpful to me as I made career decisions. He is much more than a coach to all the guys fortunate enough to have played for him.”
Watson said he catches UM games on TV whenever he can and smiles when he sees Larrañaga stomping his feet and doing his trademark whistle. “The game is very different from when he coached us, but his mannerisms and demeanor are exactly the same,” Watson said. “His teams are still very well-prepared and unbelievably well-coached. I see a lot of similarities with our team under coach [Porter] Moser, who is a lot like Coach L in his game preparations.”
At a recent reunion of the 1991 Bowling Green team, the former players called Larrañaga and took turns chatting with him. “It was hysterical,” Watson said. “It wasn’t the games we talked about, it was the memories, the cookouts at the Larrañaga house, the Snickerdoodles Mrs. L baked us, and their dog, Simon.”
▪ 2. The Ramblers get pre-game pep talks and prayers from legendary 98-year-old team chaplain Sister Jean Schmidt. She has been at the school for more than a half-century, has been the chaplain since 1994, and is a fixture at games — always in her maroon and gold scarf and custom Nike sneakers with “Sister” and “Jean” on the back of her shoes.
When Moser was hired as head coach, he found a scouting report of all the players on his desk. It was written by Sister Jean. Standing 5 feet tall, she has always been a big sports fan. She played basketball in high school from 1933-37 and coached basketball, volleyball, softball and track for over two decades at schools in Chicago and Los Angeles.
“She’s like another coach,” senior guard Donte Ingram told the Chicago Tribune. “The first game [as a freshman], it caught me off guard. I thought she was just going to pray. She prayed, but then she starts saying, ‘You’ve got to box out and watch out for 23.’ She knows her stuff.”
Sister Jean missed nine home games this season after falling and breaking her hip, but she returned for the end of the season, in a wheelchair, and plans to travel to Dallas for the game against UM.
▪ 3. The 1963 Loyola team made history when it won the national championship with a team that featured four black starters. The most well-known game of the Ramblers’ run was the Regional Semifinal against an all-white Mississippi State team that ignored Mississippi governor Ross Barnett’s decree that they not cross the state border to play an integrated team.
The game, which Loyola won 61-51 on Mar. 15, 1963, became known as “The Game of Change.” Although it is not as famous as the 1966 National Championship game between all-black Texas Western and all-white Kentucky, it remains an important part of college basketball history. Also, that Loyola team remains the only team from the state of Illinois ever to win the national title.
▪ 4. Famous alumni from Loyola-Chicago include former Chicago Bears owner George Halas, Jr., William Scholl (founder of Dr. Scholl’s foot products), actor/comedian Bob Newhart, author Sandra Cisneros, actor Leslie David Baker, who plays Stanley on The Office, and Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes.
▪ 5. Watch for Loyola-Chicago to be a media darling this week, as it is one of seven teams chosen by CBS and Turner to be featured in NCAA March Madness Confidential, a behind-the-scenes look at teams as they go through their tournament journey. A production crew has been embedded with the Ramblers since Sunday night’s Selection Show. The other six teams featured are Auburn, Clemson, Nevada, Ohio State, Rhode Island and Tennessee.