‘Two little kids’ from Overland Park, Kan., epitomize charm and resolve of Loyola-Chicago



March 30, 2018 - 11:00 PM

Loyola guard Ben Richardson celebrates after defeating Kansas State, 78-62, in an NCAA Tournament regional final at Philips Arena in Atlanta on March 24. Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/TNS

2018 NCAA Tournament: Loyola-Chicago

SAN ANTONIO — In the euphoria of Loyola-Chicago winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament to earn its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1985, no image resonated with Ramblers coach Porter Moser more than what he witnessed in a Scot-trade Center corridor on the way to the interview room.

Walking behind Overland Park, Kan., natives Ben Richardson and Clayton Custer, Moser was struck by “the most real little-kid moment you’ve ever seen.”

It wasn’t just that the Blue Valley Northwest High School graduates wore their celebratory hats backwards and further adorned with nets that had just been snipped down.

It was the distinct body language between the young men who’d been playing together since third grade.

Along the way, they bumped each other and hit each other playfully, even smacking each other on the head and saying things like “can you believe this?”

“Like it was T-ball, and they just hit a home run in T-ball,” Moser said Thursday as Loyola prepared to play Michigan in the national semifinals on Saturday. “They were like two little kids.”

That innocence and improbability is at the heart of 11th-seeded Loyola’s journey here — and the essence of its meaning in a group otherwise made up of perennial powers and No. 1 seeds Kansas and Villanova and the third-seeded Wolverines.

“I think we’re what’s right about college basketball,” Custer said.

Loyola is the one that doesn’t resemble the others, the one that Moser likes to say hasn’t had a dunk yet in the NCAA tourney (although one finger-roll lay-in that some are debating as such) but is defined by dazzling ball movement that honors the game, and sneaky-good defense.

The one that has 98-year-old team chaplain Sister Jean, whose bobbleheads were selling on eBay for $53 on Thursday afternoon and who conducted a news conference of her own on Friday.

The one that no one saw coming and in some senses appreciate this more than anyone else here.

The team now besieged with media began the season receiving regular coverage only from the student newspaper (the Loyola Phoenix). Players actually were asked to hand out flyers or post them in dorms to help convince people to come to games.

“We were personally hanging them up and handing them out,” Loyola’s Aundre Jackson said.

Now, they marvel that they actually get their own rooms in San Antonio and can’t believe the fuss being made over them.

“It’s insane, the attention we got, the arena, just everything. It’s crazy. I think that’s why it’s called March Madness,” said sophomore Bruno Skokna, who is from Croatia. “This is another level. We’re treated like kings, like presidents. I think it might even be a little bit too much.”

Beyond all that, Moser’s profile stands in radical contrast to his colleagues’.

KU coach Bill Self has won 654 games overall and 47 in NCAA tourney play, and a national title; Villanova coach Jay Wright has won 542 games and is 24-13 in the NCAA tourney with a national title; Michigan coach John Beilein has won 540 games and is 23-11 in NCAA play.

Moser is 226-211 overall and had a losing record at Loyola before its 32-5 outburst this season, and he bears a rare distinction among Final Four coaches in general:

His past includes being fired as a head coach.

That was at Illinois State in 2007 by then-athletic director Sheahon Zenger, now the AD at Kansas.

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