SAN ANTONIO — There’s winning the news conference, and then there’s shredding it at the news conference by mercy rule.
There’s charming the national media, and then there’s leaving them swooning.
There’s acting like you’ve been there before, and then there’s what Loyola coach Porter Moser did Thursday. He was the ultimate storyteller and a friend to all. He was earnest, endearing, funny and sweet. He was a big-time guy on a big-time stage who just happens to be from a not-so-big-time school, but who even remembers that last little detail anymore?
Is this really Moser’s first Final Four? Because he came off a lot more like the biggest star in the room.
Sorry, Villanova’s Jay Wright, Kansas’ Bill Self and Michigan’s John Beilein, but you can forget about it being your Alamodome. At least until the games are played Saturday, this is the Porter House.
“It’s an understatement to say we’re excited to be here,” he said.
It’s an understatement to say media members from near and far have a new favorite college basketball coach.
“Oh, my God, that was amazing,” one well-known reporter actually said to a circle of others after Moser had finished speaking.
If you’re a Loyola fan and you’ve been unsettled by speculation about Moser moving up the coaching food chain to a school in a major conference, understand that I’m in no position to make you feel any better. The more he opens his mouth in a setting like this, the more fuel there is for that fire. Moser might be 49 and in his third head-coaching job — 14 seasons in all — at the Division I level, but to most who cover the sport, he has come from out of nowhere to become the next big thing.
Moser’s players were still wide-eyed, as one would expect, in their first full day on the ground in San Antonio. Aundre Jackson was stoked about playing on a raised, stage-like court — “you have to walk up the steps!” — in a football stadium. Donte Ingram couldn’t wrap his mind around what 70,000 fans might look and sound like. It’s a lot to take in.
“It’s not really normal,” Clayton Custer said.
For crying out loud, the Ramblers ran into Russell Westbrook at the team hotel. Freshman Lucas Williamson’s eyes nearly popped out of his head as he explained that first the Thunder and then the Rockets — Westbrook! James Harden! — would be sleeping under the same roof, in town to face the Spurs, while the Ramblers are there.
“Just to even be on the same level as them is crazy,” Williamson said.
But Moser? Coach Norman Dale in “Hoosiers” wasn’t half as cool. On one topic after another as he addressed reporters, Moser was insightful, thorough and colorful.
He described “reinventing” himself after Illinois State fired him in 2007 and expressed the hope that his success 11 years later will inspire the next person who finds himself or herself at a career crossroads.
“I hope people see that in me,” he said, “that adversity can define you in a positive way.”
He reminisced about his early days at Loyola when Gentile Arena was being renovated, the erstwhile Alumni Gym had just been torn down and the Ramblers didn’t even have their own gym to practice in.
“We’ve had to find ways [at] Loyola,” he said. “This journey has been a complete grassroots rebuild. I’m talking from the rock bottom.”
Moser made everybody laugh when he imitated his dear friend and mentor, the late Rick Majerus, turning short “O’s” — like in “offense” — into long ones. He was even funnier when teasing freshman center Cameron Krutwig, who last season led Jacobs to an unprecedented 30 victories, for not bringing home a state championship.
And he made one wonder how lasting Loyola’s ascent might be as he discussed the Ramblers’ place in the Chicago sports scene.
“I’ve been told many times: Chicago’s a pro town,” he said. “It’s not. It’s a sports town. I look at what Northwestern did last year. Northwestern captivated the city. They have a couple of Chicago kids now. We have a couple of kids from Chicago now.
“It’s good for Chicago basketball. It’s a great area, a great thing for basketball. And I hope it snowballs. I just hope they [come to] our campus, not the other ones.”
It’s probably a little late to mention that none of the above will help the Ramblers when the lights go up, the talk dies down and the stern task of facing Michigan arrives. But don’t tell that to all the writers and TV folks who are suddenly smitten.
Porter Moser to Blue Blood U.? Prepare for more speculation.
Porter Moser for president? It has a certain ring to it.
Just imagine if his team wins another game or two.