Now that Loyola’s magical journey is over, what are we to do with ourselves?
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What are we supposed to do for fun now?
If we sound like a back seat full of bored children, it’s because we are. Our three-week fun ride is over, and we don’t know what to do with ourselves. Loyola invited us to roll down the window, enjoy the wind and the sunshine on our faces and feel a little more alive than we had before. So we did.
That’s probably why the Ramblers’ loss in the national semifinals to Michigan stung so much. We were having so much fun watching a group of friends play basketball that, when the end came Saturday night, we had to turn and face our everyday lives. And where’s the fun in that?
As Loyola mowed through the brackets, it became clear that none of its victories was an upset. The 11th-seeded Ramblers were simply an excellent team, and through a gift no one saw coming, we were handed this wonderful story. Game-winning shots became regular fare. So did conversations about teamwork and defense and sacrifice. We were having a ball.
Americans who didn’t know there was a Loyola in Chicago and locals who didn’t know there was a good Loyola basketball team in Chicago suddenly started setting their clocks by the Ramblers’ start times.
Together, we became thoroughly familiar with players we hadn’t known existed just weeks earlier. By the time the tournament was over, we could break down each of their games. Clayton Custer? Master handler of a basketball and sweet-shooting leader. Ben Richardson? An opponent’s nightmare on defense. Cameron Krutwig? A dancer’s feet attached to a bouncer’s body.
Their names will stay with us for a long time. Donte Ingram. Marques Townes. Lucas Williamson. Aundre Jackson. There was so much ink and so many pixels devoted to these kids that, in the future, if one inadvertently responds to a job-interview question with “no comment,’’ he should be forgiven.
It was ridiculously out-of-control entertainment.
Anyone who had ever crossed paths with 98-year-old Sister Jean, the now nationally known team chaplain, got his or her own feature story. And we now know more about coach Porter Moser’s life than he probably does.
It was fun in concentrated form. And it was painful, too.
The Loyola I had seen before this last game was better than Michigan. The team that had built a 10-point second-half lead against the Wolverines was better than Michigan. But that team needed to be perfect, and it wasn’t.
Its 17 turnovers were so out of character. That was not the team we had seen throughout the tourney. The team we knew took care of the ball the way a security detail protects an asset. The team we saw in San Antonio looked skittish in an ugly second-half stretch. That team tried fitting passes into impossibly small windows. End of story. End of season.
There are all sorts of lessons that can be gleaned from the Ramblers’ run. Hard work matters. Chemistry matters. Talent matters. But there are plenty of close, talented teams that work hard. The biggest lesson that comes out of Loyola’s magical journey is that sometimes cool things happen. That’s it. The Ramblers took advantage of everything they found along the way, and a bunch of good basketball players and good people spun an incredible tale all the way to the Final Four.
If Wichita State hadn’t left the Missouri Valley Conference after last season, perhaps Loyola wouldn’t have made the NCAA Tournament this season. You never know. Maybe that should be the school slogan from now on, with all its delicious possibilities: You Never Know.
Now the talk will turn to Moser. Will he stay at Loyola? Will other schools come calling? The Ramblers caught a break when Xavier, another Catholic school, promoted an assistant to replace coach Chris Mack, who left for Louisville. It’ll be wonderful if Moser stays, if for no other reason than to see if he can build on this season’s success. Is this finally the time that Chicago-area high school players start staying home in droves? Wouldn’t that be an excellent story?
And if Moser moves on, good for him. It’ll likely mean he received an incredible offer.
And us? Now we get down to the business of figuring out what to do with ourselves. Another team will move into the void created by Loyola’s loss. Maybe that will be the Cubs or the White Sox. The NFL Draft is coming up. We’ll be fine.
But we’ll remember the Ramblers for putting on a stirring show. There was an unexpectedness to all of it. Now we go back to expecting the expected. Bor-ing.