CHICAGO – When you’re in the midst of your own season, it’s tough to be able to focus on other teams in the same city that are doing some big things.
But it’s hard for professional basketball players to ignore the incredible run by a college basketball team a few miles up the road. That is certainly the case when it comes to the Bulls and the Loyola Ramblers for two big reasons in particular.
The first is Denzel Valentine, who has a very personal connection to the team’s run to the Final Four this weekend in San Antonio.
His older brother, Drew Valentine, is in his first year as an assistant coach for the Ramblers, having joined the team after two seasons in the same role at his Alma Mater Oakland University.
Denzel sent this congratulatory Instagram to his brother after Loyola’s victory in the Elite Eight. The younger Valentine is in his second season with the rebuilding Bulls and is averaging 10.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile Fred Hoiberg has a reason to pay attention to Loyola guard Clayton Custer, whom he had on his final team at Iowa State during the 2014-2015 season. The guard saw action in just 12 games that season before he transferred to Loyola and Hoiberg took the Bulls job that summer. Since then Custer has blossomed at Loyola and this past year won the Larry Bird Award for Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year.
Per rules pertaining to NBA coaches discussing college players, Hoiberg couldn’t specifically comment on Custer or his play. But he was able to discuss the Ramblers, whom he praised during practice on Monday.
“It’s fun to watch teams that have great chemistry like that. You look at what Loyola is doing out there right now – they’re so together,” said Hoiberg of Ramblers. “Even getting off to a slow start the other night, to be able to stick with it and then really gain the momentum and then never really look back after that, they’re just playing with such a high level of confidence right now.
“It’s such an exciting thing for everybody involved to see what they’re going through and we’ll see what happens.”
Certainly they’ll be engaged viewers when the can over the next week.