Loyola Striving To Make Final Four Only The Beginning

"Greatness has no finished product," Porter Moser says.

Chris Emma
July 11, 2018 - 2:48 pm
Loyola coach Porter Moser

Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports

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By Chris Emma--

(670 The Score) The whirlwind in which Porter Moser resides hasn't slowed down since his Loyola Ramblers' remarkable run to the Final Four.

Since the trip to San Antonio this spring, Moser has been steadfast in aiming to take Loyola even further. He was rewarded with a new contract that runs through 2026, helped break ground on the Norville Practice Facility his program needed and has been all over the recruiting trail trying to find the kind of players who can continue to add to a culture his team has set.

On Tuesday alone, Moser welcomed Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to campus to unveil commemorative Final Four license plates, spoke to six freshman orientation groups on campus and found his way to yet another AAU tournament -- this one not a scouting trip but rather to watch his daughter play in Chicago.

Moser then planned to hop a flight Wednesday to Georgia, where he will scout tournaments in Atlanta and Augusta, looking for the next crop of Ramblers to take his program even further. Whether it's freshmen at orientation, a ballroom full of donors or a recruit in a living room, Moser's message is similar in how it resonates.

"Visualize what lies ahead," the 49-year-old Moser said with passion present in his voice. "There's so much opportunity lying ahead."

Loyola became Cinderella of this past NCAA Tournament, the Missouri Valley program that thrilled all the way through to the Final Four. Those who celebrated the Ramblers in March enjoyed the buzzer-beaters and fun style of basketball that was so easy to support. Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, the team's 98-year-old chaplain, certainly played a part in the Ramblers' popularity. It was a compelling story you didn't want to see end.

But the clock didn't strike midnight on Loyola despite a heartbreaking second half in the loss to Mo Wagner and Michigan in the national semifinals. The Ramblers return three of their starters from the Final Four run, led by senior guard and reigning MVC Player of the Year Clayton Custer. From another senior guard in Marques Townes to sophomore big man Cameron Krutwig to sophomore guard Lucas Williamson, the experience of last March should pay dividends moving forward.

While campus in Rogers Park still savors the memories of this Final Four run, the Ramblers returned to work this summer as a team on its next mission.

"We don't walk around like we've already arrived," Moser said. "Greatness has no finished product. We want to be playing (in the national championship game) Monday night. We want to be getting better this summer. There's no entitlement. They got to be hungrier than ever. Nothing's going to be given to us because of anything that happened last year. 

"The guys, they tasted that stage. They want to get back. They want to get better. They see the direct results of what chemistry, unselfishness, unbelievable effort, investment -- they saw direct reward from all that. They're putting right back into the bank this summer."

It wasn't long ago that Moser was handing out hot dogs and fliers on campus trying to recruit students to his team's games. Now, the Ramblers' reputation speaks for itself. In uniting Chicago through its tournament run, Loyola gained fans across the city.

Loyola has seen its season-ticket sales rise 175 percent already from last year, selling out its entire lower bowl. Donations continue to pour in for the athletic department, and the acclaim of the program has reached its highest point in several decades. Loyola is capitalizing off its Final Four success last season.

The greatest challenge for Moser is scheduling. The big-name schools weren't picking up the phone even before Loyola reached the Final Four. Local programs like Northwestern and DePaul have continued to avoid playing Loyola in what would be a fun setting of basketball. Loyola will host Nevada -- which it defeated in the Sweet 16 -- at Gentile Arena on Nov. 27.

Moser was given the backing of the university with the contract extension, pay raise and practice facility that offers Loyola a platform for continued growth. He was considered and will likely continue to garner attention for bigger jobs across the country after what the Ramblers accomplished, but the opportunity to build a team at home really resonates with Moser, a Naperville native who calls the city's north suburbs home.

"It's been such a great thing for me being born and raised in the Chicago area," Moser said. "I've been a diehard Chicago fan: Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, Cubs. To have a little part of history in the city means so much for me. I mean, I'm a diehard Chicago guy. To take this program, to elevate it to this point, it meant a ton for me. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to stay. I wanted to build something to get behind.

"Pride is an awesome trait. To see the amount of Ramblers fans around the country get so prideful about Loyola University means a lot to me."

Moser arrived at Loyola in 2011 in his third head coaching stint and was given a photo for his office. It was the 1963 national championship team returning to campus and Sheridan Road filled with a scene of celebration. He held dreams of a moment like that, and it came true the day after the program's Elite Eight triumph back in March.

Goosebumps ran down the spine of Moser, whose aspirations for Loyola became a reality. The team had a police escort back from O'Hare Airport, one that was stalled on Sheridan by hundreds of onlookers welcoming the Ramblers back and many more waiting inside Gentile Arena. 

Moser hopes his program never looks back. That means continuously selling out home games, winning the conference championship year in and year out and becoming a team that isn't such a surprise in the NCAA Tournament. Favorites in the Missouri Valley, Loyola wants to become the nation's preeminent mid-major program in the years to come. Gonzaga and Wichita State are among those programs that model what Loyola can be.

Loyola's success of last March could indeed be just the start. Moser's work is only beginning, too.

"I don't want to talk about the Final Four," he said. "I don't want to talk about the Valley championship. I want to be obsessed with what we can control. What we can control is getting better."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.