Loyola basketball family stronger than ever, excitement for the future plentiful

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Loyola has a lot of key players returning and young talent to develop. | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

SAN ANTONIO — Former Loyola basketball player Joe Crisman tweeted “nothing less than amazing” Sunday morning in reference to the Ramblers’ improbable run to the Final Four. He was among the dozens of Loyola basketball alums who showed their support and joined the team for the ride.

Coach Porter Moser has created a culture of inclusion in Rogers Park. Former players feel just as gratified with the team’s success as the current players.

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When Moser took over the program seven seasons ago, he led a complete rebuild.

“One of the things I’ve said, I want to build a program, not a team. A program is sustainable,” Moser said during the Ramblers’ run. “You really get the thing moving when your younger kids come and your older kids have already bought into your culture. And that’s what happened.”

Moser’s culture change has brought past and present players together, and he has used it to entice recruits.

“I tell them in the recruiting process, you’re not making a four-year commitment at Loyola to play for us. You’re making a lifetime relationship,” Moser said after the Ramblers’ 69-57 loss to Michigan on Saturday in the Final Four. “And that’s what we have. That’s what these guys have. And I’m proud of that.”

That family atmosphere is what drew Marques Townes to Loyola two years ago and why incoming freshman Franklin Agunanne is excited to start his collegiate career.

“This program is going to grow a lot,” Agunanne told the Sun-Times in a recent phone interview. “[With] the progress of the program, they’re going to get [top] recruits.”

Agunanne followed Loyola’s NCAA Tournament run from afar but stayed in close contact with Moser. The three-star recruit had been pursued by several Big East and Big Ten schools.

“[Loyola’s tournament run] says a lot about the future of the program,” said Agunanne, a senior at La Lumiere School in Indiana. “The guys leaving have paved a way for me. I’ll come into this program and have the same mentality of winning games and making it to the NCAA Tournament.”

The Ramblers have a lot more going for them than just Agunanne.

Though they’ll lose three key players — Donte Ingram, Ben Richardson and Aundre Jackson — along with Carson Shanks and Nick Dinardi, Loyola is expected to return 10 letter winners and bring in three recruits, including two three-star signees.

“I think every year we’re getting higher-level kids, and they’re going to come in and buy into the culture,” Moser said. “I’m optimistic that we can sustain this.”

The Ramblers’ top two scorers — Clayton Custer (13.2 points per game, 45.1 percent from three-point range) and Townes (11.1 ppg) — are slated to return next season.

Big man Cameron Krutwig, who led Loyola with 17 points against Michigan and has shown immense improvement this season, also is expected to return. He’s eager to get back to the gym and start working for next season.

“There is going to be a target on our back now,” Krutwig said. “People are going to respect us, but they are going to want to beat us. So next year, we are going to have to up it even more than we did this year, and I have no doubt that we will.”

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