Sister Jean is heading back to March Madness, and trolling Kentucky on the way

·3 min read

Sister Jean, the star of Loyola-Chicago's Final Four run three years ago, is heading back to March Madness.

And holding news conferences over Zoom.

And feeling "young at heart," even at 101 years old.

And trolling Kentucky, which only won nine games this year, its fewest since Sister Jean was 7.

"I filled out my bracket," she told a group of reporters Tuesday, shortly after confirming her trip to the NCAA tournament in Indianapolis. "I may change it before I go down there. I don't see Kentucky any place."

Sister Jean's national title pick

Sister Jean does not have Loyola winning it all – which is unsurprising, if you remember her story from three years ago. She's a knowledgeable, passionate basketball fan. And her national title pick is a smart one: Gonzaga.

In 2018, she had Loyola going to the Sweet 16, but no further. When the Ramblers beat Nevada to advance to the Elite Eight, as junior guard Clayton Custer strode off the court, he found the then-98-year-old nun and said: "Sister Jean, we broke your bracket."

"Keep breaking it," she told him.

This time round, she has Loyola in the Elite Eight – and upsetting No. 1 seed Illinois in the second round. But she isn't happy with the Ramblers' draw. Nor should she be.

"It amazes me that they put two Illinois schools together to go against each other rather than support each other," she said.

FILE- In this Nov. 27, 2018, file photo, Loyola of Chicago's Sister Jean shows off the NCAA Final Four ring she received before an NCAA college basketball game between Loyola of Chicago and Nevada in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton, File)
Sister Jean shows off her 2018 Final Four ring. (AP Photo/Matt Marton, File)

Sister Jean braves the pandemic

Loyola's first-round game against Georgia Tech will be Sister Jean's first in over a year. She's had to brave COVID-19 like the rest of us, socially distanced and at times lonely in her downtown Chicago senior apartment, even after getting vaccinated. A woman asked her the other day: "Sister Jean, you're such a social butterfly, how could you stand all this?"

"Well, I talk a lot to students all the time," Sister Jean said. "I'm calling them to see how they're doing, what they're doing. I've called loads of freshmen this year, sophomores. And I've had emails. Every email I get, I answer. I've just tried to keep in touch with them, because these young people keep me young. ... I learn new words all the time from them. Some good, some not so good.

"It's been tough, though," she continued. "It's been tough not being able to go to campus. There's just something lacking."

All her communication with the men's basketball team will continue to be over the phone or Zoom. Every March Madness team has had to name a strict "Tier 1" travel party of players, coaches, trainers and a few others. There was, understandably, no room in Loyola's for Sister Jean. She'll presumably be in Tier 4, with family and friends of the program.

"Their parents can't see them [up close and in person], so I can't either," she explained.

She'll have a nurse and security with her at her hotel in downtown Indy. For a while, it was unclear if the school would allow her to go at all. But she begged, and lobbied. "One alum wrote and told me that her husband was willing to drive me down," she said Tuesday. "Another person told me she was going to sneak me out of the university, and another couple said they would like to kidnap me, and Loyola would have to search for me."

The school, on Tuesday, announced that she'd go as its guest. And she's excited for the trip. The Ramblers tip off at 4 p.m. ET on Friday at Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse.

"I just wanna see them," Sister Jean said. "It's just going to be like old home week to me."

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