SAN ANTONIO — Bracketville is a big stage and a small world, all in the same breath. John Beilein’s second win as a major-college coach came three schools and 25 years back, on Jan. 2, 1993, when Canisius romped to an 84-66 victory over … Loyola-Chicago.
“We had beaten Canisius at home the previous year and returned the game to them in John’s first year as coach,” Will Rey, the Ramblers coach that season, told Land of 10 when asked about Michigan’s venerated men’s basketball coach — who’s leading the Wolverines into the 2018 NCAA Tournament Final Four against that same Loyola program, a generation later.
“John and I had never met before that game. I also recall being impressed with John’s team offense as we prepared to play him. And, of course, watching John’s teams over the years since then has built on that impression, as he has distinguished himself as one of the premier offensive coaches in the game.”
Beilein never ran into the Ramblers again — at least, until now — and his and Rey’s paths mostly diverged from that point. The future Michigan coach struggled in his first season to get the Golden Griffins (10-18) off the ground but would go on to lead Canisius to a pair of NCAA tourney berths in his five seasons in Buffalo, N.Y. You know the rest of the tale, as Beilein parlayed that success into fruitful 5-year stays at Richmond (1997-2002) and then West Virginia (2002-2007).
‘She was not the team chaplain during my tenure at Loyola. I wish she had been, however. Perhaps she would’ve helped us beat John in that game at Canisius!’
— Former Loyola-Chicago basketball coach Will Rey on Sister Jean and Michigan coach John Beilein
Rey’s crew in 1992-93 wasn’t much better, finishing with a 7-20 mark in his fourth season. After an 8-19 record in Year 5 at Loyola, Rey was cut loose, closing the books with a 45-96 mark at the small Jesuit school on Chicago’s North Side.
“Subsequently, John and I would run into each other from time to time on the recruiting trails or at the Five-Star basketball camp where I was coaching in the summers,” the former Loyola coach recalled. “Once I left college coaching in 2004, however, I lost touch with John. He’s done a magnificent job at [Michigan] as he has done at every stop along the way.”
The Beilein era at Canisius began somewhat less magnificently, with a 110-62 thrashing at Duke in the season opener. Blue Devils star Grant Hill connected on 12 of 13 from the floor that night, scoring 28 points.
On Saturday, Hill will be at the microphone for TBS while Beilein will be coaching Michigan.
Against, of all teams, Loyola.
“Who would have predicted it?” said Rey, now the athletic director at Northridge Preparatory School in the Chicago suburb of Niles, Ill. “Someone asked me [Thursday], ‘Can Loyola win?’ I answered, ‘Why not? They’ve beaten everyone else they’ve played thus far when no one thought they could.’
“Both teams have gotten this far by playing sound basketball and executing in pressure situations, so they’re both very capable. Besides, this is college hoops and not a best-of-seven series. Anything can happen in a one-game series.”
The Wolverines have Beilein in their corner, but the Ramblers have an ace in theirs that they didn’t have in 1993: Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt — now an international sensation as Sister Jean, the 98-year-old star of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
“I have never met Sister Jean,” Rey said of the venerated nun, who became the basketball team’s chaplain in 1996, a few seasons after he’d left the program. “She was not the team chaplain during my tenure at Loyola. I wish she had been, however. Perhaps she would’ve helped us beat John in that game at Canisius!”