ALGONQUIN – One table at Algonquin’s Buffalo Wild Wings was occupied by 10 college freshmen, all Jacobs graduates of 2017, home for the Easter weekend.
They figured a great way to spend their Saturday evening would be seeing one of their classmates on TV. They were not wrong.
“It’s cool when you’re watching and you see your classmate in the Final Four,” said Aidan Ludlum, a freshman at Minnesota.
The restaurant was packed with Jacobs’ fans turned Loyola fans, there to see Ramblers freshman center Cameron Krutwig in the semifinals of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament against Michigan.
It was Loyola’s first Final Four appearance since the Ramblers won the 1963 national championship. Michigan ended Loyola’s magical run with a 69-57 decision, although the local fans were thrilled as Krutwig led Loyola with 17 points.
The crowd cheered every good play for the Ramblers, those from Krutwig were a little louder. While one table was his classmates, at another were his former teammates from last season, a group that won the Fox Valley Conference title this season while he was helping Loyola win the Missouri Valley Conference.
“We’ve been watching all the games and we decided why not come here and see our big guy go at it in the Final Four?” said Ajani Rodriguez, a senior guard at Jacobs. “It’s pretty surreal. One day we’re talking at school and now he’s on TV, on ESPN, and playing in the Final Four. It’s a really cool experience.”
Senior forward Ryan Phillips marveled at how Krutwig has improved on already impeccable footwork.
“His low post moves are amazing,” Phillips said. “He’s always been a great finisher, but he’s even more of one. He’s had to change his game, he’s playing against even better competition.”
Loyola became the tournament darling, the No. 11 seed out of the East Regional reaching the Final Four in its first tournament appearance in 33 years. Sister Jean, the 98-year-old team chaplain, became an international sensation.
“It’s exciting. To see Loyola do this is really cool,” said Kelsey Jablonski, who earned her Master’s degree in social work at Loyola and grew up in Algonquin. “I work near the Loyola Water Tower campus now, everyone is so excited about it. They put signs up all over the place, I’d never seen it before when I was there.”
Locally, the entire area quickly backed the Ramblers after watching Krutwig’s exploits for four years of high school.
Ludlum and his friends thought it was an ideal time for a small reunion on Saturday.
“I knew (Krutwig) was good, but it’s something else to see him at this level,” Ludlum said. “He’s improved so much to be able to do that.”
Shortly after the Ramblers won the MVC Tournament in early March, Krutwig returned to the area and was at teammate Tim Pinsel’s house playing video games with the guys, just like he usually would. A few weeks later, they were watching his team almost make it to the championship game.
“It was amazing for the boys to have an opportunity to see their teammate play and all his success,” said Jack Pinsel, Tim’s father. “It was an amazing ride. It was good to see the whole community come together like that. It was a lot of fun.”