After a grueling weeklong boot camp in September, the Loyola men’s basketball team walked into the Damen Student Center theater, and coach Porter Moser had “One Shining Moment” blaring over the speakers.
“[It was to] let them know all their hard work, your blood, sweat, tears, your aches and pains, it’s for a goal,” Moser said. “It’s to get the program where it hasn’t been for 33 years.”
Six months later, the Ramblers heard the song again, but this time, it wasn’t a motivational tool.
Moser folded his hands and eagerly leaned forward in his chair on center stage Sunday at Gentile Arena. Donte Ingram sat to his right, Ben Richardson to his left.
As the clock was winding down for TBS’ Selection Sunday show to begin, players snapped selfies and joked with each other, but Moser’s eyes were fixed on the big screen.
For the first time since 1985, the Ramblers are going to the Big Dance.
When No. 11 Loyola was announced to play No. 6 Miami in the first round of March Madness on Thursday in Dallas, the entire arena erupted with joy. Ingram grabbed senior forward Aundre Jackson’s leg and yelled, “Man, you’re going home.”
Jackson, from Dallas, called his mom while he was still onstage to tell her the news.
“It’s so surreal,” Moser said. “I’ve taped the selection show and showed it to my players over the years as motivation, like, this has got to be us. . . . And to sit there actually and do it, we were pinching ourselves up there. No more motivation, this is real. That’s our name.
“Daydreaming is one thing. But having a vision and getting after it and working after it is another. This wasn’t daydreaming. This was a group of people with a vision and working unbelievably hard to get there, and I’m so proud of this group.”
While players were still celebrating on the court, assistant coaches made a beeline to their office and downloaded film on Miami.
Loyola’s work isn’t finished.
Unlike most coaches and players who view the postseason as a fresh start or a new season, Moser has instilled a sort of no-finish-line mentality.
Clayton Custer and Marques Townes are Loyola’s only key players with NCAA Tournament experience.
Custer, who leads the Ramblers in scoring at 13.4 points per game, played his freshman season (2014-15) at Iowa State. Townes played for Fairleigh Dickinson, which made the tournament in 2016.
Having been there and done that, Townes warned his team about losing focus on college basketball’s biggest stage.
“I just want to play and have us play how we have been all year,” Townes said. “It’s going to be a little different scenario now because if you play, it could be our last game. I just tell them now, ‘You just got to play your hearts out like it’s your last game because it could be our last one.’ ”
Moser hopes his players remember this feeling, but on Monday, he wants their focus to be locked in on Miami.
Follow me on Twitter @madkenney.