When I think of college basketball locally, the school that pops into my mind is DePaul University. But that fact may not be true for much longer.
I was a high schooler back when the Blue Demons (still playing in the old Alumni Hall gymnasium) had that string of competitive teams in the early 1980s to go with that team that managed to make it to the Final Four of the 1979 NCAA men’s basketball tourney.
WITH LONG-TIME coach Ray Meyer at the head and star Mark Aguirre leading the team, there was a time when DePaul was one of the big deals of Chicago sports – certainly more significant than the pre-Michael Jordan era Chicago Bulls ever were.
They may not have made it to the championship game (that was Michigan State/Indiana State that gave us a national preview of future NBA stars Magic Johnson and Larry Bird). But there is a generation that will never forget that era of our local sports scene (particularly since the only other championship team of that time period was the 1981 Chicago Sting soccer team).
But is DePaul’s long-time local rival, Loyola University, about to knock the Blue Demons’ squad of nearly four decades ago off their perch.
For the Ramblers who managed to gain themselves a spot in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tourney have managed to far exceed what they should have achieved.
THEY’RE IN THE ‘Elite Eight’ of teams (65 started out the tourney a couple of weeks ago), and their victories were all by single points.
Loyola University has given us some gut-wrenching games to follow, ones that weren’t settled until the final seconds. I’m sure there will be many people watching Saturday night when the Ramblers take on Kansas State University.
CBS Sports is calling the game “the most unpredictable Elite Eight game in NCAA Tournament history.” Who’s to say if Loyola is capable of another victory – which would officially mean the Ramblers of ’18 will have matched the Blue Demons of ’79 in terms of athletic achievement.
Which I’m sure would make Loyola alumni and Ramblers fans happy, since even though the school likes to boast that they’re the only Chicago entity to ever win the NCAA tourney outright (back in 1963), that one seems so long ago and some basketball fans I’ve heard dismiss it on the grounds that the game itself has changed so much.
NOW I’LL ADMIT to being a band-wagon type fan in all of this. My own alma mater, Illinois Wesleyan, plays Division III basketball, and yes, the Fighting Titans this year qualified for the NCAA tourney, but wound up losing in the first round to the Wooster Scots (they’re in Ohio).
Meaning there wasn’t much to root for on that front. Which made it possible to follow along with Loyola and also wonder about those individuals scattered around the country who have taken to using the name and image of “Sister Jean” in vain.
Mostly fans of the schools that have managed to lose by one point apiece during the three games Loyola has played this month. Should we expect those fans to have to go to confession for besmirching the image of the 98-year-old nun who has made herself the most visible Ramblers fan?
Although what can be said of the fact that for many people watching the games, they probably know of Loyola as Sister Jean and a batch of players they never paid much attention to before.
UNLIKE THE DEPAUL squads of those past decades where Aguirre was the “big name” that was destined to play a dozen years professionally in the NBA with Dallas and Detroit.
Although I suspect if you toss out the “Aguirre” moniker to a modern-day Chicago fan, his Blue Demons stint is more memorable than anything he did for those Pistons teams that won NBA championships just prior to the Bulls’ own string of six champs during the 1990s.
So what’s likely to happen Saturday. Will the Sporting News turn out to be correct in their prediction of a Loyola victory and a trip to the Final Four, being held this year in San Antonio, Texas?
Or will DePaul fans and alumni be able to breathe a sigh of relief that this year’s Ramblers’ squad didn’t go so far as their own team’s historic run of ’79?