Nov. 22, 2013
CHICAGO - Over the past year, the 1962-63 Loyola University Chicago men's basketball team has been honored on numerous occasions for its accomplishments during that season.
Still the only team from the state of Illinois to have won the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship, the squad was recognized at the State Capitol in April 2012. In July, members of the team were honored at the White House by President Barack Obama on the 50th anniversary of their national championship. In September, the entire team was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.
And this weekend, the team will cap off an incredible year with perhaps the most prestigious honor of all. On Sunday, Nov. 24, the squad will be the first-ever team to be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
"It's been a beautiful run, and this is almost like the end to it," said two-time All-American and team captain Jerry Harkness, who received the Muhammad Ali Athlete Award at the 39th Annual Giants Awards Dinner in June. "It's been a fantastic year. You can't end it on a higher note."
The entire team will be inducted in this year's Hall of Fame Class alongside players Tom McMillen (Maryland), Bill Walton (UCLA), Marques Johnson (UCLA), and Bob Hopkins (Grambling State); coaches Gene Keady (Purdue) and Rollie Massimino (Villanova); and contributors George Raveling (Nike) and George Killian (FIBA).
Loyola's 1963 men's basketball team, which was led by legendary head coach George Ireland and assistant coach Jerry Lyne, featured starters Harkness, John Egan, Les Hunter, Ron Miller, and Vic Rouse, as well as reserves Dan Connaughton, Jim Reardon, Rich Rochelle, and Chuck Wood.
"Now, after all these years, we have seen superstars like Julius Irving and Bill Walton," said Egan. "When we look at these guys, we look at them like fans, how they looked at us one time! It's impressive for me at least to be given an award in the same ceremony as these guys who are truly superstars in basketball, whether it be college or professional. We're cognizant of the fact that we're getting this award because of team play; team work, as opposed to individual talent."
Despite erasing a 15-point deficit to knock off the two-time defending champion University of Cincinnati and capture the national title in the first televised NCAA championship game, the team is perhaps most well known for its role what would become known as the "Game of Change." On March 15, 1963, Loyola was set to play against Mississippi State in an NCAA Regional contest after earning the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. The Ramblers had a starting lineup known as the "Iron Five" that featured four African-Americans and the all-white Mississippi State team had previously been unable to compete in postseason play against integrated teams due to an unwritten state law.
Before Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett could serve an injunction that would've prevented the team from playing Loyola, the Mississippi State team snuck out of town under the cover of darkness and made it to East Lansing, Mich. The Ramblers won that game 61-51 behind 20 points from Harkness, just one stop on their way to the national title.
"I think what I'm most proud is that I was a part of that period," said starting guard Ron Miller. "I think that was one of the most exciting periods in this country, and I was delighted to be a part of that sixties period of time. I saw so many social changes take place and attitudes change so much. I was given an opportunity to be part of that. Right time, right age."
In January, Tom Hager named the Ramblers' title game the No. 1 contest in NCAA Tournament history in The Ultimate Book of March Madness. The "Game of Change" was named one of the top moments in NCAA March Madness history. That season, Loyola led the nation in scoring with 92.3 points per game after opening the season ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press Poll. The Ramblers entered the NCAA Tournament with a 24-2 record, setting the record for margin of victory in a 111-42 win over Tennessee Tech in the opening round.
Every member of the 1963 team is enshrined in the Loyola Athletics Hall of Fame, and each of the starting five has his number retired. All nine members of the team graduated from Loyola and went on to collectively earn 19 degrees.
"I am proud that we were able to represent Loyola and Chicago in a very positive matter," said Rochelle. "You reach a certain age and you don't expect to hear anything anymore. All of a sudden, you're thrust right back into the limelight again, and you don't soak it up the way you did as a kid but at the same time, you can be very proud of the young men you put the time in with 50 years ago on your team. You can look at the other guys and other teams that you interacted with and take pride in the fact that they were young men just like us doing what we were doing; working every day trying to earn our scholarship, keep our noses clean and keep our heads above water."
Induction ceremonies for the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame will take place on Sunday, Nov. 24, at the Midland Theatre in Kansas City as part of a three-day celebration of college basketball.