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Members of 1963 Loyola (Ill.) national title team meet with President Obama

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While they weren’t the subjects of a movie meant to depict their experiences like the 1966 Texas Western basketball team (“Glory Road”), the 1963 Loyola (Ill.) Ramblers hold a special place in the history of college basketball. 

Head coach George Ireland’s team would win the national title that season with four African-American starters, a development that served as a catalyst for the integration of college basketball.

One of the Ramblers’ NCAA tournament games was played against a Mississippi State team that had to sneak out of its own state to play in the game. Prior to that contest Mississippi State did not participate in postseason play due to a state law that prohibited teams from playing against teams that used African-American players. 

This past December the two schools met for the first time since “The Game of Change” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tournament meeting, with surviving members of both teams honored throughout the weekend (Loyola won the game, 59-51).

On Thursday Loyola met with President Barack Obama at the White House, capping a two-day trip to the nation’s capital. Among the seven surviving players making the trip were Les Hunter, Jerry Harkness and John Egan, three of the Ramblers’ five starters in the national title game.

Harkness said Obama put him at ease calling him “Cap,” and that they discussed being left-handers who love basketball.

Harkness said the exchange prompted another former player, guard Ron Miller, to ask Obama: “You’re left-handed, but can you go to your right? Because Jerry (Harkness) could never go to his right.”

Obama, Harkness said, replied: “I can’t either, but we’re just so fast that they can’t keep up, even though they know which side we’re going at.”

Current head coach Porter Moser made the trip, as did Judy Van Dyck (the late coach Ireland’s daughter) and university president Rev. Michael Garanzini. On Wednesday the traveling party was led on a tour of U.S. Capitol

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.

Coach Hamilton likes mix on Florida State basketball roster

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State is the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that returns all five of its starters from last season.

For most teams that would be cause for celebration. For coach Leonard Hamilton it means he is hoping the struggles of the past two seasons have been valuable experience.

The Seminoles had their first practice on Wednesday as they are looking to bounce back from a season in which they went 17-16 and didn’t play in a postseason tournament for the first time in 10 years.

“We have five starters returning from a team that won 17 games. We have guys that have been around, who know their shortcomings and can pass on their wisdom to the younger players,” Hamilton said.

With an experienced roster and a highly regarded recruiting class, Hamilton is hoping to lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, which is also the year they won the ACC Tournament.

Jarquez Smith, the leading returning scorer from last season, said the open gyms before the start of practice have been extremely competitive as the incoming recruiting class has tried to assert itself early.

“We’ve been going at each other’s neck and it has gotten very competitive,” Smith said. “Everyone is fighting for their position because the guys coming off the bench are just as athletic as who is on the court.”

The newcomers feature Dwayne Bacon (a McDonald’s All-American selection), Terance Mann (the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire) and Malik Beasley (the Georgia 1A Player of the Year). There’s also Chris Koumadje, who at 7-foot-4 will be the tallest player in school history, and Benji Bell, who helped lead Northwest Florida State to the JUCO National Title.

“This is a very confident and focused group of inexperienced players,” Hamilton said. “They want to make something special happen but aren’t taking anything for granted.”

Two things that Hamilton will look to work on during preseason practices is defense and figuring out his rotation. The Seminoles suffered from a lack of depth last season but this year he could have a roster that goes 10 deep and allows him to go to more of a full-court pressing style of defense.

Xavier Rahan-Mayes led the team in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points en route to becoming the first freshman in ACC history to score 30 or more points three times. The one thing he said he noticed in preseason practices were that everyone played off each other’s strengths.

Florida State’s first exhibition game is Nov. 2 against Lynn University before opening the season on Nov. 15 against Nicholls State.

“I think we have a pretty good combination of experience and an influx of new players. Any time you have that type of scenario you appreciate it,” Hamilton said. “It looks like we have it moving in the right direction. We’ve had a good offseason and regrouped.”