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For Loyola’s Donte Ingram and Lucas Williamson, there’s no place like home

Chicago players opted to stay local and roll with the Ramblers

SAN ANTONIO — As Donte Ingram contemplated where he’d play college basketball, he decided not to follow history.

History would have taken the basketball star from Simeon High School away from both the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois. Just as it had Anthony Davis, Jabari Parker, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and the long list of talented Chicago players who opted to accept college basketball scholarships out of state.

“I understand that sometimes people, in certain situations, just want to get out of the city,” Ingram said. “I had just gotten to Chicago just three years prior to my freshman year in college. I wanted to stick around. I wanted to make the city proud.”

Had Ingram been a high-profile star out of high school, he likely would have left the state for a bigger school. But Ingram can attest that bigger is not always better.

His success in helping Loyola reach the Final Four — it was Ingram’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer in a 64-62 first-round win over Miami that made the Ramblers’ incredible run possible — is assisting in strengthening what has been a fragile connection between Chicago basketball players and local colleges.

When Porter Moser agreed to coach Loyola seven years ago, there was only one Illinois kid on the team’s roster, and none from Chicago’s public schools. Moser was able to persuade current Brooklyn Nets guard Milton Doyle to come to Loyola after he decided to transfer from Kansas before playing a single game. The four-year success of Doyle, a graduate of Chicago’s Marshall High School, changed how local kids viewed the North Chicago campus.

Now the Ramblers have two local kids: Ingram and Lucas Williamson, a freshman. Williamson played at the national powerhouse Whitney Young, where in his first year he was a teammate of Nets forward Jahlil Okafor on a team that won the IHSA Class 4A state championship in 2014.

And, according to Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter, the success of Ingram and Williamson can only lead more local colleges to eye Chicago kids.

“I think the curb appeal of some of our local [colleges] has to change,” Slaughter said. “If you don’t keep your yard nice and if you don’t paint your gutters, no one will look at your house, even if it’s in a nice neighborhood.

“The curb appeal at Loyola? It’s nice,” Slaughter added, laughing. “They got that yard pretty well-groomed. Someone’s going to come in and take a look at this house.”

Ask Ingram who was one of his biggest influences in considering Loyola, and he credits Doyle.

Ingram grew up in the South Chicago suburb of Danville and transferred to Simeon High School for his junior season, coming off the bench to help Parker, now a forward with the Milwaukee Bucks, lead the school to a state title.

“To be able to leave my imprint on what this school has accomplished is really something special. And being in the Final Four is a great tribute to Chicago basketball.” – Donte Ingram

By his senior year, Ingram wasn’t on the radar of any major programs but drew interest from several mid-majors, including Hampton and a few schools in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Why Loyola?

One reason: Ingram’s older brother, DaJuan Gouard, had played four seasons there between 2001 and 2005.

The main reason? The success of Doyle, who had a standout career there on the way to being named to the All-Missouri Valley Conference first team.

“I saw Milton Doyle during my senior year in high school and watched what he was able to do at Loyola,” Ingram said. “That’s really the reason why I came.”

Moser understands how big of a get Doyle was for his program.

“When I got the job seven years ago we’re Loyola of Chicago … and we had not one Chicago public league player in a 10- or 12-year window,” Moser said. “We convinced Milton Doyle to come, and everybody knew Milton in the city. And I think people are like ‘Milton went there, I’ll check it out.’ ”

Ingram started just a single game as a freshman but averaged five points while playing just over 18 minutes per game. He started 26 games as a sophomore, and this year he was the team’s second-leading scorer (11.3 PPG).

At 6 feet, 6 inches, Ingram’s considered a tweener, but his versatility to play either shooting guard or in the frontcourt has helped the Ramblers. Ingram’s 6.3 rebounds a game led Loyola, and on offense he’s just as likely to post up a smaller guard as he is to come off a screen for a jumper.

“Basketball nowadays is becoming more positionless, so the more things you can do, the better chance you have of being on the court,” Ingram said. “I’ve embraced adding low post and midpost to my game. We’ve got a lot of versatile guys and feel like we always have a mismatch.”

Williamson, in his first year, doesn’t have numbers that jump out at you (4.9 points and 2.2 rebounds in just over 20 minutes a game). But the 6-foot-4 guard will always be on the right side of what you need done, whether it’s getting a defensive stop or grabbing a big rebound.

“You hear so much about Chicago and a lot of it is negative, so to be in a position to represent the city in a positive light is something that I cherish.” — Lucas Williamson

For Williamson, coming to Loyola was a no-brainer.

“You hear so much about Chicago and a lot of it is negative, so to be in a position to represent the city in a positive light is something that I cherish,” Williamson said. “Some people don’t want to go to college close to home, but I love it. I can go home whenever I want, get a home-cooked meal when I want and have my mom and dad come to every home game.”

Now those close supporters are here in San Antonio, and the Ramblers are 40 minutes away from reaching the national championship game as a No. 11 seed.

With larger-than-life Loyola team signs and images hanging throughout the Alamodome and downtown San Antonio, the Ramblers are trying to avoid getting caught up in the hoopla.

“A lot of people are going to want a piece of us, and they’re calling and texting us, and we need to stay focused and get a good night’s rest,” Williamson said. “Playing in the Final Four is something that’s hard to comprehend. It’s going to be crazy. But we’re comfortable.”

The Ramblers are comfortable, and ready to represent their city.

“To be able to leave my imprint on what this school has accomplished is really something special,” Ingram said. “And being in the Final Four is a great tribute to Chicago basketball.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at Andscape. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright and watching the Knicks play a MEANINGFUL NBA game in June.