Russell Westbrook to Loyola-Chicago: ‘Go ahead and win it’

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Loyola-Chicago’s team plane pulled into a private hangar, and the players were serenaded by a brass band playing “Deep in the Heart of Texas” while they walked a festive carpet to a team bus emblazoned with their logo and colors.

The 11th-seeded Ramblers sure looked like they belonged when they rolled into San Antonio in style for the Final Four.

Several hours later, the excitement still hadn’t worn off when the biggest underdogs in recent NCAA Tournament history joined powerhouses Kansas, Villanova and Michigan at the Alamodome on Thursday morning for the four teams’ first workouts before Saturday’s semifinals.

“We dreamed of getting to this moment, and now we’re here,” said Loyola-Chicago senior Aundre Jackson, a native Texan. “It’s a challenge to deal with all of this, but I think we deserve the attention. We’ve worked really hard for it.”

The next few days will be surreal for every player — but particularly for Loyola-Chicago, it seems.

When the Ramblers reached their team hotel, they got another thrill from a brief visit with Russell Westbrook. The NBA MVP is in town with the Oklahoma City Thunder to face the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night.

“I was standing next to him, trying to see how tall I was,” said Jackson, who got a photo with the UCLA product. “He just (said), ‘Good luck and go ahead and win it.'”