Sister Jean feeling good ahead of Loyola-Chicago's game against top-seeded Illinois

Nancy Armour, USA TODAY
·3 min read

INDIANAPOLIS — Sister Jean is taking some confidence from Ohio State.

Not the Buckeyes’ first-round game in the men’s NCAA tournament, of course. That wouldn’t inspire anything but angst and unhappiness this weekend. No, Loyola-Chicago’s 101-year-old team chaplain is thinking of last weekend's Big Ten tournament final, when the Buckeyes hung with top-seeded Illinois right to the very end.

“There are certain similarities of play to what we do well,” Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt said Saturday morning.

She wasn’t about to share what those were, though. With Loyola playing Illinois on Sunday, state bragging rights and a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line, Sister Jean wasn’t taking any chances of someone stealing her scouting report.

One thing she was willing to share? She thinks the Ramblers will beat Illinois, a trendy pick to reach the title game.

“I believe again we can do it. We’ll try our best and we’ll do our best,” Sister Jean said.

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Despite their proximity, Sunday’s game is a rarity between Illinois and Loyola. They’ve only played 16 times, and they haven’t played since 2011, Loyola coach Porter Moser’s first season with the Ramblers.

But one of the meetings came in the 1963 tournament, when Loyola went on to win its only NCAA men’s title. Sister Jean doesn’t recall much of that game – “I didn’t have the TV until for the final game. So there was not that much watching the games except by reading about it. Sorry to disappoint you on that” – but she does remember watching the title game. A fellow nun’s brother-in-law gave them an 11-inch television so they could watch, and she said they huddled in front of it in a small room, watching the delayed broadcast of the game.

When Loyola won, students at Loyola – Sister Jean was still at sister school Mundelein then – flooded out of the dorms and onto the street, yelling “We won! We won!”

Members of that ’63 team have stayed in contact with Loyola, and Sister Jean says there’s a similarity between that squad, the 2018 team that went to the Final Four and this year’s Ramblers.

“The great connection is the teamwork that each team shared,” she said. “They don’t care who gets the ball, as long as (it) gets in the basket. They don’t care who gets the points.”

Sister Jean is fully vaccinated, and she was given permission to come to the NCAA tournament, the first time she’s been allowed to leave her senior facility in more than a year. She had a special place reserved for her at Hinkle Fieldhouse for Friday’s win over Georgia Tech, and plans to be there for Sunday’s game.

Though she hasn’t been able to actually see the Ramblers this season, she has stayed in contact, sharing her scouting reports with Moser and praying with the team before every game. She also emails after games, sharing her thoughts for the entire team and then adding an individual message for each player.

But Sister Jean said she had to go old-school this weekend, handwriting her letter to the team.

“My email went awry before I came, so I couldn’t send them a letter this morning. But it’s getting there. I used my intermediaries,” she said.

“Our young men have such a passion for basketball,” Sister Jean said. “I know tomorrow they’re going to do their very best. They know they’re facing a tough school. But if I look at Illinois-Ohio State, I feel more confident.”

Follow Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: March Madness: Sister Jean has faith, even against No. 1 seed Illinois