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.