By LARRY VAUGHT
Loyola-Chicago created a national buzz when it seemed to come out of nowhere to reach the Final Four last year.
That was the Final Four berth Kentucky fans thought the Wildcats were going to have before UK lost to Kansas State in the Sweet Sixteen and then Loyola-Chicago beat Kansas State in the regional final to reach the Final Four.
At the Final Four, Loyola-Chicago had a lead over Michigan midway of the second half in the national semifinal before losing.
Loyola-Chicago assistant coach Drew Valentine, the brother of Chicago Bulls’ Denzel Valentine and a former Michigan State assistant coach, was at Mustang Madness at McCracken County over the weekend looking for more talent to bring to Chicago.
“It’s awesome coming into an event like this where last year it would have been like, ‘Oh, that’s the coach from Loyola or wherever.’ Now you are looking at me differently and wanting to do an interview with me,” Valentine said during a break between games.
“It’s definitely good for our program. When we come to an event like this, our program has some weight. We get a chance to talk to coaches and players from top teams and it’s not just them shrugging us off. They are excited.”
I told him I got 15 text messages letting me know “a Loyola-Chicago coach is sitting behind you “ before the game got over.
“That’s good and means people are noticing us and our name means something,” he said. “I haven’t here before. This is crazy. I walked in and reserved seating is sold out and you have to buy general admission. That’s cool but that doesn’t happen at many high school events.
“This is nuts. There is a definite buzz in here and you can tell people are really into the games watching them and not just going to the games for a social event. You can tell people really care about basketball down here.”
He saw that first hand in the NCAA Tournament last year when Kentucky played Kansas State in the Sweet Sixteen before Loyola-Chicago upset Nevada.
“It was crazy to see last year when Kentucky played before us in Atlanta and to see how their program brings so many fans out,” Valentine said. “It was cool for our fans to see the Kentucky fans and we have had more crowd and fan support and people caring more financially about our program.
“It’s fun to watch Kentucky and I have a lot of respect for that program. They know how to do things the right way.”