When Opportunity meets Destiny

I have a belief that absolutely nothing happens by accident.  Where you are in life is exactly where you are supposed to be at this point in your life.  The NCAA Tournament stands as a perfect example of that.

It was inevitable that a 16 seed would beat a 1 seed in the tournament at some point.  Obviously by the look of my bracket where I had Virginia winning a National Championship, I didn’t expect it to be Maryland Baltimore-County over Virginia.  But, Virginia basketball will forever be a mark in history and if there had to be a person that was perfectly equipped to handle it and the perfect person for the job, it’s Virginia coach Tony Bennett.

Bennett could not have been more gracious in defeat.  He made no excuses for his team’s failure and rightfully pointed out that when you put yourself out there and enter the arena, bad things are just as likely to happen as good things.  It’s life, and Bennett showed not only his players but the entire nation how to handle a most unfortunate historical moment.  And, yes for the Virginia Tech jihadists who revel in Virginia’s failure, they should also take comfort in knowing that Virginia Tech will never blow a 16 -1 game in the NCAA Tournament because there’s no chance Virginia Tech will ever be a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Obviously the story of this Tournament has to be Loyola University of Chicago.  It’s much too easy to concentrate the story of Loyola on the darling of the Tournament Sister Jean.  She’s become a National Icon but if you’ve watched Loyola play over the past few years, you already knew of her.  She’s a superstar now and Loyola has just licensed 27 brands of shirts, socks and a bobble-head doll of good old Sister Jean, who lives in the dorm at Loyola, is a former basketball coach herself and has worked at the University for 50 years.  To put that in perspective, she’s 98 years old.

The person who deserves the credit for Loyola’s rise, is a person who found himself at the perfect place at this time in his life, Head Coach Porter Moser.  Moser is all things Chicago, having grown up in the suburb of Naperville.  He played high school ball in the Chicago area, earning a college scholarship to play basketball at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.  Moser played at Creighton when playing at Creighton wasn’t cool.

Moser bounced around at several schools as an assistant, before getting his first head coaching job at Arkansas-Little Rock.  Feeling the call to return to his roots, Moser left UALR for a job at Illinois State in his native Missouri Valley Conference.  And it’s here that Moser faced his biggest failure.  In 4 seasons as the Redbirds Head Coach, Moser went just 51-67 with three losing seasons in his four years on the job.  After going 9-19 in his third year, Illinois State improved in year four but only to 15-16.  Moser was fired by Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger who indicated that Moser was overseeing a program out of control.  In the irony of ironies, Zenger is now the A.D at Kansas, who is also in this weekend’s Final 4.

To rebuild his career, Moser became an assistant again with Rick Majerus at St. Louis University.  Majerus was truly one of the best basketball minds in the game and with Moser’s help rebuilt St. Louis basketball and put them back in the NCAA Tournament.

In 2011, Loyola came calling.  Moser was the school’s top choice to take the job, but he wasn’t sure.  Majerus told him to take the job and the rest as they say, is history.  After two years of 7-23 and 15-16 in the Horizon League, Loyola took a step up in class and joined the Missouri Valley Conference in 2013.  The better league allowed Moser to recruit at a higher level.  He was able to land the school’s first recruit out of the famed Chicago Public League in Milton Doyle.  This year’s roster features the second and third CPL players in Donte Ingram from Chicago Simeon and Lucas Williams from Chicago’s Whitney Young High School.  The Chicago Public League is nothing if not stocked with talent.  Among the alums of the league are NBA All-Star Dwayne Wade.  Toss in a couple of Division 1 transfers and you have a roster that exceeds the tournament committee’s 11th seed.  Loyola is candidly more like a 6 seed.

If you believe that Loyola’s Final 4 is a fluke, you just haven’t been paying attention.  The Ramblers can flat out play and honestly I’m not going to be surprised if they are in the National Championship Game next Monday.  They beat Florida in the regular season and in the Tournament have beaten Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State. I hate this term but they do have the look of a “team of destiny”.  In their second round game against Tennessee, the game winning shot should have never gone in.  It hit the front of the rim and somehow bounced right to fall in the basket.  Makes you wonder if Sister Jean has someone important on speed dial.

The City of Chicago loves a winner and thus they now love Loyola.  The school has about 16 thousand students and sits in the Rogers Park area of Chicago just a few steps from the Chicago Transit Authorities’ Red Line.  It’s just a few stops South of Wrigley Field.  It’s best known for its variety of academic programs including a law school and medical school.  It will cost you about $42,000.00 in tuition to send your child there and it’s obviously more in line with someone interested and/or used to living in a big city.

Named after Spanish Priest Saint Ignatios of Loyola, who died in 1556, the school has three national titles in athletics including the 2014 and 2015 NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship.  The school’s athletic teams adopted the nickname Ramblers in the 1920s when their football team (the school no longer sponsors the sport) was going all over the country to play games thus earning the Ramblers title.

This Saturday Moser finds himself on a big stage literally as the Final 4 Court sits in the middle of a large stadium elevated above the benches and in some cases, the bleachers.  The question is will he still be at Loyola next year?  Coaches tend to take these type of runs and turn them into bigger jobs at much bigger salaries.  There are some jobs out there that fit that bill including Louisville and Pittsburgh among them.  But, for now Moser is right where he’s supposed to be in life and that might just be good enough for Loyola and it’s beloved nun to have their one shining moment end in a National Title.