CHICAGO (CBS) — One more day, Ramblers fans. Anticipation is high for the Final Four.
Loyola hits the hardwood Saturday for their game against Michigan, but the team got a first look at the court at the Alamodome on Thursday.
The enormity of being in the Final Four really registered for the Ramblers when they took the court inside the cavernous Alamodome for a closed practice.
“When we first walked in there, we was like ‘Wow,’” junior guard Marques Townes said. “I was just telling these guys now it’s starting to finally hit me; that we’re here, that we’re finally in San Antonio in the Final Four. I’m really soaking it in now. This is great. This is awesome. I’m so happy.”
The elevated court inside the Alamodome is an enormous stage, both literally and figuratively. Nearly 70,000 fans are expected to pack the arena for the Final Four games. It’s a few steps up from the 5,000-seat Gentile Arena on Loyola’s campus, to say the least.
“Just looking around, you see how big it is, and just imagining how packed it will be, it’s just an unreal feeling, because we deserve to be on this stage,” senior forward Aundre Jackson said.
Meantime, Loyola players are seeing their faces plastered everywhere they turn in San Antonio. Murals of the Ramblers adorn the walls of their team hotel, and the walls outside their locker room at the Alamodome.
Rapper Drake and NBA superstar Russell Westbrook are the latest celebrities to have a crush on the Ramblers.
Jackson, a Texas native, snapped a picture with Westbrook, who was staying at Loyola’s team hotel on Thursday.
“It’s pretty cool to see that. I mean, he knows who we are. He knows Loyola, because we’re kind of a nationwide thing now, and it’s just cool to kind of see him and get a picture with him,” Krutwig said.
Westbrook wished the team good luck, and told them to, “Go ahead an win it!”
All of the extra attention for Loyola might be adding more fuel to Michigan’s fire for Saturday’s game.
South Side native and St. Rita graduate Charles Matthews is well aware of how Loyola has taken over the city, but Michigan’s leading scorer in the NCAA Tournament is trying hard to not think about facing a team from his hometown.
“Crazy, right? I actually put out the whole mindset that they’re from Chicago, because right now it’s me versus them. It’s Michigan versus Loyola,” he said. “I don’t get into one-on-one matchups or whatnot, but I’m happy for a team from Chicago to be here; especially all the negativity that you hear amongst the city. So I’m happy they shined some positive light.”
Loyola will have their first open practice Friday morning. Up to 30,000 people might be in attendance for that. There might be a bigger crowd for Sister Jean’s press conference after practice.
The new 400 theater in rogers park is opening its doors to rambler fans this weekend. It’s showing the game in three theaters. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The Loyola-Michigan game tips off at 5:09 p.m., followed by the battle of number one seeds, Kansas and Villanova.
Both games will air on TBS.