Exclusive: Loyola-Chicago’s Lucas Williamson talks to us about Cindere11a team, Final Four
Alright, let’s talk about the biggest thing making a splash this March — the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers.
The No. 11 seed has managed to fight their way into the Final Four.
If there’s one thing you learn growing up in Chicago it’s that basketball is not just a game, but a way of life.
That was something I learned in high school. I also learned that you never missed a Friday night game.
What football is in the south, is what basketball is in Chicago.
Year in and year out, Chicago produces some of the best high school players in the nation. Shall I list a few?
- Jahlil Okafor, Duke 2015 National Champ, now Brooklyn Nets center
- Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin 2015 Player of the Year, now Charlotte Hornets forward
- Jabari Parker, Duke, now Milwaukee Bucks forward
- Derrick Rose, Memphis 2008 NCAA runner up, Minnesota Timberwolves guard
- Anthony Davis, Kentucky 2011 Final Four appearance, New Orleans Pelicans forward
The thing is, you don’t often hear of players staying in Chicago or Illinois for college.
You hear their names throughout the season and, come March Madness, the Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune always give a break-down of the Chicagoland area players in the tournament, and they’re always in abundance.
This March is a unique one for Chicago for a few reasons:
- Loyola-Chicago is in the Final Four with six players being form Illinois, five being from Chicago or the Chicagoland area.
- Villanova’s star junior guard, Jalen Brunson from Lincolnshire (a suburb of Chicago) helped lead Nova to a 2016 NCAA title.
- Michigan’s 6’6 junior guard, Charles Matthews is from Chicago and was the No. 2 player in the state of Illinois for the 2015 class.
Loyola-Chicago freshman guard Lucas Williamson, also from Chicago, understands why this March is so special compared to others in the past — especially for Chicago.
I got the chance to talk with Williamson about this wild Cinderella run that has Chicago and the country in awe!
But this Cinderella run for the Loyola Ramblers, won’t just make them happy with staying this long at the ball and being in the Final Four…
They want that NCAA Championship title to bring back and hoist it up to city of Chicago.
Check out what Williamson had to say on growing up in Chicago, why he knew Loyola was on the brink of doing something special and what it is that America doesn’t know about Sister Jean.
Jenna Duddleston: I’m guessing this has got to be a worldwide for you guys, would you agree or disagree?
Lucas Williamson: I would definitely agree with that.
JD: Talk about being a kid and playing basketball in Chicago?
LW: A lot of people say that Chicago is the basketball mecca, I mean we have a certain style of how we play in Chicago and it means a lot to the city and it means a lot coming from here. It just takes a certain pride in our basketball teams.
Even pro, on the collegiate level and high schools is really big here and obviously growing up in middle school we just take pride in Chicago basketball.
JD: Why do you think it is that Chicago and basketball go so seamless together?
LW: I don’t know why but I know that basketball here has been pretty good.
Two of the most prestigious high schools in the nation in Whitney Young and Simeon. You got Michael Jordan, who’s had his best years in Chicago, winning the six rings and I just think basketball in general has just always been like success in the city and it’s something that we continue to put money into and have great success.
JD: With Chicago athletes I think we always have this chip on our shoulder and I think, maybe it’s just me but, we have this mental and physical toughness to us. Especially with basketball players, would you say that you have that toughness compared to your opponents?
LW: I’d say it goes off of what I was saying, we have a certain style of play here in Chicago.
Playing here in high school, playing in the red west it really toughens you up and it really weeds out who’s really cut out for this and who’s really not. And that’s kind of where the toughness comes from being from a city like Chicago.
And I would definitely say I play with a chip on my shoulder. I’m trying to prove to myself, not necessarily to anyone else, that I can play at the level that I can play at.
JD: That Chicago mentality. I don’t know, maybe its because it’s a city life and not a small town life, I’m not even sure exactly what it is, but you kind of just have to grow up a lot quicker on the court and you can’t be so delicate.
LW: Oh yeah, definitely.
JD: OK, so I’m assuming you probably heard of this quote before, but when you signed with Loyola you said, “I really think Loyola is on the verge of doing something special and I want to be a part of it. I really believe in the coaches, and the guys in my class are high-level guys. I think we can take Loyola to unprecedented land.” This is kind of crazy because you hit the nail on the head! So can you kind of talk a little bit on why you decided to go to Loyola?
LW: Why I decided to come to Loyola, you know, my recruiting process had some ups and downs and I decided to sign late after my season and Loyola popped into the picture after my senior year.
And you know, they invited me on campus and I came on campus and I tried to give everybody a shot, because you never know and I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t know.
So I was like, I’m gonna come up on campus to see what Loyola has in store and I came on campus and I was like, wow! There’s an entire campus here and I’ve lived here for 18 years and I had no idea that all of this was here.
The campus here is beautiful and you know talking to coach it really, I could really relate to the things he was saying he talks a lot about energy and bringing a championship atmosphere and he talks about culture a lot and I really liked what he was saying! I never took an official visit, I took like four unofficial.
I came up here with my dad and I was like, mom you gotta come up here and see this. And I came back with my mom and they both liked it and it just felt like a hit and that’s why I decided to come here.
JD: Was it really important for you to stay in Chicago and play?
LW: Throughout the recruiting process, I kept saying it didn’t matter if I went far or stayed close to home, but I definitely do love the fact that I’m still in Chicago.
Because mom, dad and my sister have been to every game this year and that definitely is something that I love, because I can go home and see mom whenever I want, go home and get a home cooked meal whenever I want.
I got the support from my family and there’s definitely something that throughout the recruiting process I didn’t really think about, but something I really cherish now.
JD: Let’s talk about Saturday! I’ve been trying to think of what word to use to describe you guys without cursing and the only one is “wow” that I can think of. It’s just WOW, because every time I’m talking about you guys and March Madness I’m honestly at a loss for words and I’m never at a loss for words. What can we expect from you guys this Saturday?
LW: You can expect us to come out and give it everything we got.
We’re a team full of winners, we’re a team full of guys that you know we still have more in store. We’re not just satisfied with making it just to the Final Four, we’re trying to go into the Final Four and get two wins.
You can definitely except us to come fully prepared and give everything that we got and go out there and die on that court if we have to.
JD: Why do you think it is that some teams have been like kind of stumped by your style of play as a whole?
LW: I don’t think people give us, realize that, you know, we play as hard as we can on both ends of the floor.
Offensively we’re sharing the ball, nobody really cares who puts the ball in the basket as long as Loyola scores the two points that can be really dangerous as you’ve seen throughout the tournament.
Donte hit the first game winner, then it was Clay, then Marcus hit a big three in the other one, and then had the 23 point performances — like you really have to guard all five people on the floor. And that’s why we’re so dangerous offensively and defensively.
We know going in we have game goals defensively and we just try to hold teams down to lower than our scoring average. And we really key in on small details and when we key in on small details ultimately it makes a big difference.
JD: One thing that I think is kind of interesting is your team doesn’t necessarily have one specific stand out superstar which is why I think, like you said, guys have been doing so well. But the real superstar is Sister Jean — let’s be honest. What is something about her that the rest of America doesn’t know?
I mean she truly is an incredible woman.
Her energy is just infectious and, it’s crazy, because she’s 98 years old and she’s truly just a special woman and we’re just really really lucky to have her.
And we’re lucky to just be able to watch this all unfold!
Thanks for the interview, Lucas, and we wish your team all the best!
No. 11 Loyola-Chicago takes on No. 3 Michigan at 6:09 ET in the Final Four in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Saturday, March 31.
The 2018 National Championship Game will then be played two days later on Monday, April 2.