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New attention won’t derail Loyola’s ride

In the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1985, Loyola University Chicago is getting attention it never has before. But the Ramblers aren’t bothered. They’re enjoying the ride.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional Practice Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — If you assumed that Donte Ingram was like every other millennial who spends hours upon hours scanning social media, you’d be wrong.

Ingram, the 6-foot-6 senior for the Loyola University Chicago Ramblers, couldn’t go to Twitter to post a video or photo of a celebration on Saturday after his buzzer-beater led his team to upset No. 3 Tennessee. The leading rebounder for the 11th-seeded Ramblers didn’t have an account — although he says he was on his way to making one, because two of his classes require it.

Chicago’s own Chance The Rapper took to Twitter to shout out Ingram for the win, but the Windy City native couldn’t tag him in the tweet.

A fellow Rambler saw Chance’s tweet and showed it to Ingram. That finally prompted him to make an account and send his first message, replying to the rapper saying “Love!” accompanied with a fist emoji. Ingram has sent three tweets since.

“I’ve never really been a huge Twitter guy,” Ingram said Wednesday. “Obviously winning a couple games in the tournament and the chances we’ve been getting, guys tweeting at us and getting a shout-out from Chance the Rapper, the South Side rapper, that was the icing on the cake, and I finally gave in to making a Twitter.”

The Ramblers haven’t been to the Sweet 16 since 1985, but here they are, in Atlanta, with a real chance to make the Final Four. This relatively-unknown team from the Missouri Valley Conference has skyrocketed into the national spotlight.

And if Ingram’s entrance into Twitter for the first time says anything, it’s that these Ramblers aren’t exactly accustomed to the attention.

But they’re adapting. The spotlight won’t bother them.

“You know, I think it’s definitely been an adjustment, not something that we get just in the normal routine and course of the Valley season,” said senior guard Ben Richardson. “We’ve enjoyed having (the media) around, but it’s been an adjustment, and it’s been something we haven’t had to talk about a whole lot. Coach has just kind of stayed on us about sticking to what’s gotten us here and focusing when it’s time to step on the court. It’s that same level of focus, that same level of energy and intensity that we’ve had all year. I think this is probably the best practice team I’ve ever been on. We really go hard when we’re out there, and we try to have a laser-like focus.”

Head to Google News and search “loyola chicago basketball.” From just the past few days, you’ll see stories from the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, USA Today, ABC and the New York Times. These are stories about the team, the school, and mostly, about the team’s No. 1 fan, Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt — the 98-year-old nun in Nikes serving as the team’s chaplain.

Loyola’s path to the Sweet Sixteen has had a fair share of obstacles. On Wednesday, Loyola’s team bus got lost on its way to Atlanta’s Phillips Arena. The bus driver circled the Peach City for 45 minutes before finding his way to the home of the Hawks. The bus was supposed to get a police escort, but didn’t. When a team makes the Sweet 16, a few wrong turns will create headlines. Three questions were asked about the bus ride at Wednesday’s presser.

But for most college basketball players in 2018, press conferences, interviews, seeing their name or school trending on social media isn’t anything new. These kids have been covered since they were playing AAU ball in middle school.

A microphone or camera in their face won’t shake them. Neither will a headline, good or bad. Are they talked about more now than they have all season? Sure. But if they lose to Nevada on Thursday, attention going their heads won’t be why.

Maybe media attention would rattle other teams, but the Ramblers seem immune to it.

“I think we can kind of compartmentalize the media stuff here, and then when we get out there, we’re going to get after it, and I think that’s why we’ve been able to be successful into the postseason and in the tournament,” Richardson said.

The Loyola Ramblers are prepared for the moment. They shouldn’t have beaten Miami. They shouldn’t have beaten Tennessee. But they did.

They shouldn’t beat Nevada, or Kentucky or Kansas State.

But they could. They might.

Wrong turns be damned, the Ramblers are enjoying this ride.

“It’s been noted a lot that we have seven kids on our team that won state championships,” Porter Moser, the Ramblers’ head coach, said. “They’re winners and they’re together. They’re a connected team. They hang together off the court. They’re talking in the hotels about the moment. Every film session, they lock in on the scouting. The moment is not going to be the reason. We prepared for this every step, and they’re locked in. They’re going to embrace it.”