Is Loyola basketball really making noise if no one’s there to hear it?
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The mid-1980s was sports heaven for Naperville teenager Porter Moser. His Cubs made it to the doorstep of the World Series in 1984. His Bears soared to glory in 1985, with Moser and his Benet Academy pals watching every game together along the way. And a man called Michael Jordan was captivating Chicago.
Moser couldn’t get enough when it came to basketball. An avid DePaul fan, he attended Ray Meyer’s camps and many games at the Horizon. He went to Loyola games — most of them played at DePaul’s Alumni Hall — too, as the Ramblers were building toward a thrilling run to the 1985 Sweet 16.
One might say Moser’s coaching career started when he was a player at Creighton and worked at Jordan’s camp at Elmhurst College, but that’s probably enough about the ’80s. Moser’s 2017 story is pretty good, too. Now 49 and in his seventh season as Loyola’s coach, he has the Ramblers swimming in relevance for what only feels like the first time in forever.
How about the stunning victory last week at then-No. 5 Florida? How about those votes received in the Associated Press’ Top 25 poll? How about that 10-1 record and, for Moser, a chance to record his 100th victory at the school Saturday against Milwaukee?
We don’t pay much attention to the Ramblers, if I may invoke the royal ‘‘we.’’ It’s a pro sports town, and even Big Ten schools Northwestern and Illinois sit far down the pecking order in terms fan consciousness. Well, sometimes we ought to pull our heads out of our you-know-wheres and pay attention. This Loyola team — the only one in the Missouri Valley Conference without a professional beat writer assigned to cover it — deserves that much.
‘‘It’s the best sports town, though I’m biased,’’ Moser said after practice Thursday at Gentile Arena. ‘‘We’ve wanted people to take notice of Loyola basketball. We want to fill this arena. But I get it.’’
Which isn’t the same as accepting it. When Moser puts his head down at night and dreams, there are visions of capacity crowds — 5,200 strong — filling the on-campus arena with pounding noise and stifling intensity. Alas, the Ramblers’ six home games this season have drawn an average of 1,883 fans. It’s a sad, sorry number by league standards. Moser has had enough of his program being ignored, and who could blame him?
‘‘Chicago has the greatest sports fans in America,’’ he said. ‘‘I really believe that because I’m that fan. I’m that diehard with the Cubs, the Bears, the Bulls, the Blackhawks. But there are enough sports [fans] to go around.
‘‘We only have 5,000 seats. If we fill this place night in and night out? There’s never been a Valley championship team that finished in last place in attendance. It’s never happened.’’
With Wichita State — the MVC regular-season champion in five of the last six seasons — having jumped to the American Athletic Conference, there’s a Valley mountaintop just waiting to be claimed. Valparaiso? Northern Iowa? Evansville? Bradley? Fine programs, all, but there’s no fear of them in Rogers Park.
It’s just that a home-court advantage has a way of creating, you know, an advantage.
‘‘This is a fun team to watch,’’ Moser said. ‘‘We play really hard. I’m telling you, this is a fun team to watch.’’
The fun travels, too, apparently. Moser received what he calls an ‘‘unbelievable outpouring’’ of congratulations from coaches around the sport after the Ramblers’ 65-59 upset of Florida, but an even better outpouring came in the visitors’ locker room in Gainesville. After an on-court interview, Moser entered the room and instantly was swallowed whole by a swarm of giddy players, who jumped up and down as they emptied bottles of water over their coach’s head.
It was a big-time victory against a big-time opponent in one of the biggest-time venues in college basketball.
‘‘It was the nicest visiting locker room I’ve ever been in in my life,’’ said point guard Clayton Custer, who injured his left ankle in that game and hopped on his right foot after it was over, swinging his brand-new crutches in the air. ‘‘We had a little lounge area in there and everything. It was just pure excitement in there.’’
Pure excitement. It can be hard to find when only 1,800 are in the house.
Might this be Loyola’s best team since Alfredrick Hughes, Andre Battle and Carl ‘‘Go-Go’’ Golston roamed the floor in the mid-’80s? It’s probably worth finding out firsthand.
‘‘We feel like we’re a top-tier team in Illinois,’’ said swingman Donte Ingram, who played at Simeon.
‘‘We can play with anybody, especially in this [area],’’ Custer said. ‘‘We can play with Notre Dame. We can play with Northwestern.’’
At the end of practice, the Ramblers broke a huddle with ‘‘One, two, three — together!’’ Looming above them, painted on the wall behind the south bleachers, were the words ‘‘Onward To Victory.’’ It was nice just to be there to see it.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.