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Ramblers reflect on how much can change in five short years

Loyola-Chicago players celebrate a regional final NCAA college basketball tournament game against Kansas State, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Atlanta. Loyola-Chicago won 78-62. | David Goldman/Associated Press

In 2013, Porter Moser was an unknown coach sitting near midcourt at the Final Four at the Georgia Dome. He had just finished his second season at Loyola with a disappointing 15-16 record and a first-round exit in the Horizon League tournament.

Moser took in the environment while watching Wichita State, Loyola’s future (and now former) Missouri Valley Conference foe, play Louisville.

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It was a big deal to witness Wichita State becoming a nationally relevant program.

Moser snapped a blurry photo of his view and shared it on Twitter. The picture signifies just how far both camera phones and Final Four-bound Loyola have come in five years. On Wednesday, Loyola traveled to San Antonio for their own Final Four appearance Saturday against Michigan.

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In 2013, Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson were more than 800 miles northwest of Moser in Kansas. They were juniors at Blue Valley Northwest High School and had just won their first high school state championship together.

Richardson remembered watching the same Wichita State game. Like Moser, Richardson was rooting for the Shockers.

Then there’s Cameron Krutwig, who was in eighth grade at Westfield Elementary School in Algonquin in 2013.

At the time, Krutwig, who watched the game on TV, didn’t take basketball too seriously. He said a lot of people didn’t think he’d ever play college ball.

“I was just a big ugly kid with slow feet that played in eighth grade,” Krutwig said.

A lot has changed since then.

Growing up in Overland Park, Kansas, Richardson and Custer were avid Kansas basketball fans. Richardson’s family owned season tickets. Both dreamed of playing in Allen Fieldhouse in front of more than 16,000 fans.

But that dream would never come true.

Although Custer was highly recruited in the Big 12, Kansas never offered him a scholarship, and he played one season at Iowa State before transferring to Loyola. Richardson, on the other hand, fell in love with Loyola as soon as he walked on campus.

“It all worked out,” Custer said.

Krutwig started taking basketball more seriously after he found himself on the varsity squad as a freshman, and he became one of the best local college basketball prospects in Illinois. Now, he’s an impact player for Loyola, averaging 8.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in the NCAA tournament.

“You watch [the Final Four] on TV all the time,” Krutwig said. “You don’t really think that it can ever really happen to you. But these guys are proving me wrong every day, and the way that we work and the way we play together and for each other, it’s unbelievable. And it’s been a dream come true for sure.”

• • •

The look of Moser’s program has changed, too. He took gambles — which often worked out — by recruited undersized forwards from junior college. He rebuilt the team’s culture.

In Moser’s first three seasons at Loyola, the Ramblers won 32 games. This season alone, Moser’s seventh, they won 32.

Although the Final Four might have seemed like a lofty goal for Richardson after signing his letter of intent with Loyola, he can say he made it.

“When you sit there and your dream is to be a college basketball player and to get to that stage, that’s what you work for,” Richardson said. “That’s what you put all the hours in for. And to get from there to here, you know, it’s not easy. There’s ups and downs. There’s a lot of times you get tested, and just the belief and having such a special group and coaching staff, it’s propelled us.”