SAN ANTONIO — Of all the gatherings in all the rooms at all the 80 Final Fours to date, one of the most unforeseen came to pass Friday morning, when Media Breakout Room 3 filled to its walls with reporters, cameras and TV cameras for the arrival of a 98-year-old nun.
“Looking in the media room, walking by, you would have thought she was one of us,” Loyola Chicago guard-forward Donte Ingram said.
“I walked by, I thought it looked like Tom Brady at the Super Bowl,” Coach Porter Moser said.
“Are you ready to go?” moderator Mark Fratto said at 9:55 a.m. sharp.
“Oh, better believe it,” said Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, the Loyola University Chicago fixture, the chaplain for its suddenly and wildly famous basketball team, and a star whose shine has budded through the Ramblers’ intoxicating run to a national semifinal berth opposite Michigan.
In the 15 minutes that ensued, she marveled at her view of all the cameras. “I never even imagined two or three,” she said, “let alone this large group. Everything just seemed to mushroom, and I could never tell you how that happens. It’s just like when students visit universities before they’re admitted, when they’re in high school. I always tell them that something magical happens. You don’t know what it is, but you know you belong there.
“And so if I got nervous when all this was happening, I said to myself, ‘Well, I tell other people it’s magical, and so just go and do it.’ And it’s a big thrill for me to be here this morning and all of you, and you know what? I’m not a bit nervous.”
She called the whole thing and the whole Final Four run “the most fun I’ve had in my life,” a life of such uncommon duration that she could recollect with precision the famed Loyola-Cincinnati national title game of 1963, when her age was 42. She didn’t go to Louisville, Kentucky, for that game, but she watched “on a little 11-inch black-and-white TV,” with a delay. “And because we didn’t have cellphones or tweet or anything like that,” she said, “nobody told us that we had won so we were watching the game as though it were live for us.”
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And then: “And then, everybody got out of the house and walked down the line on Sheridan Road [beside the campus], men and women together.”
She marveled at communication as can few.
“We didn’t have all these fancy things, digital media, all the things that seem to make it easy,” she said. “The fact that you can put me [on TV] in a place like this when I’m not even there, it looks as though I’m visiting, the main camera in New York or whatever city, and then you have me sitting in the Gentile Center at Loyola and you have somebody else in another place and it looks as though we’re all together. I get amazed.
“I’m not in communications, but I just have to tell you something aside if I can do that. A student came to me about two years ago” - she has a familiar office in the Damen Student Center - “and said, ‘I have to do a paper for communications. Sister Jean, could I interview you and learn about the changes that have been made in communications in your life?’ And I said to her, ‘How long do you think this will take?’ She said, ‘About 15 minutes.’ I said, ‘In 96 years’ - because that’s how old I was then - ‘could I talk that much in 15 minutes?’ I said, ‘We’d better have at least an hour.’ “
To a question about the challenge thrown down by Jalen Rose’s 100-year-old grandmother and Michigan fan, Sister Jean said: “I saw it on Facebook the other day. I also heard that she said she’s out to get me, so we’ll see. Somebody said, ‘Maybe you need a pair of boxing gloves,’ and I said, ‘Well, we’ll see what happens.’ I hope we see each other. I hope we meet there. I love to meet people.”
To a question about her basketball prayer strategy, she said, “I like to pray for both teams so that especially the fans who might hear me now that I’m partly on one side, but only partly, because at the end of the prayer, I always ask God to be sure that the scoreboard indicates that the Ramblers have the big ‘W.’ “
And to a question about seeing her likeness upon socks and other gear, plus that bobblehead doll, she stressed that she was not behaving “in a proud fashion” when she added a slight correction. The first bobbleheads, she said, long since had appeared, for a game against Milwaukee, which Loyola Chicago played on the road in December.
Then she broke off from that vein and went ahead and said, “I think the company could retire when they’re finished with me.”
Laughter filled the room.
By 10:10 after 15 of the faster minutes around, Fratto announced the end of the rarest of sessions, whereupon Sister Jean said, “I could stay for an hour.” She told the thickly gathered media, “You’re great people, and don’t let anybody put you down at any time.”
Soon, Moser was on the main-room dais boasting, “I have an original bobblehead.”
It had been some morning.