Each year, at the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament, a Most Outstanding Performer Award is presented. I’m ready to cast my ballot before the opening tip. My MOP? Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt from Loyola-Chicago.
You may think that’s a bunch of nun-sense, but I can’t think of any player or coach who has had a bigger impact on a team than Sister Jean, the 98-year-old nun who serves as the Ramblers’ chaplain. She already has become the story of the tournament. And that’s saying something in a maddening March that began with the University of Maryland Baltimore County becoming the first 16th seed to knock off a No. 1 seed. After scoring another upset Saturday with a 78-62 win against Florida State in the South Region championship game in Atlanta, Ramblers players presented their inspirational nonagenarian with a piece of the net they cut down.
Not surprisingly, Sister Jean mania has been sweeping the nation. T-shirts emblazoned with her “Worship, work and win” motto and bobbleheads bearing her likeness have been flying off the shelves as America celebrates the woman who inspired Loyola-Chicago to become only the fourth 11th seed to reach the Final Four. One marketing executive said the kindly Sister has become the most famous religious licensing icon since the pope. Sister Jean gave her blessing that all proceeds go to the school’s athletic department and the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
She has become the tournament’s most-tweeted-about person, and her impact has gone beyond social media. A company that tracks news stories about coaches found that Sister Jean was mentioned twice as many times as Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, the most-written-about coach.
Who could have imagined that the Cinderella of this (basket)ball would come dressed as a nun?
My bride gets frustrated with me because every year she asks what I want for my birthday and every year I tell her, “Nothing but cake and time with you and our family.” Well, this year, I decided to have some fun and told her I wanted the up-for-auction 1952 Mickey Mantle Topps baseball card that’s expected to fetch at least $3.5 million for its owner—former National Football League player Evan Mathis. She told me, no problem. She’d just cash in her 1909 Honus Wagner card that’s been gathering dust in the basement.
Clever response. If she possessed the famous Wagner card in near-mint condition—which, sadly, she doesn’t—she could have sold it for big bucks because two years ago that piece of cardboard established a baseball card record when it was auctioned off for $3.12 million. Mathis was spot-on when he called his rare, near mint-condition Mantle “the Mona Lisa of the sports card world.”
And to think we used to attach those mini-Mona Lisas to the spokes of our bicycles with clothespins because they made a really cool motorized sound when we pedaled down the street.
I believe the NFL draft is the most over-hyped event in the history of sports. But I must admit I’m intrigued this year to see what the Buffalo Bills are going to do because this could be one of those franchise-altering selections, for better or worse.
The New York Jets’ trade up to the No. 3 spot certainly makes the Bills task tougher because their AFC East rivals also have their eyes on a quarterback. In all likelihood, the Cleveland Browns will use the first overall pick on Sam Darnold from Southern Cal. The New York Giants select second and are in the market for a quarterback to replace veteran Eli Manning after this year. It’s going to cost a king’s ransom to convince the Giants to make a trade. Buffalo would have to yield both of its first-rounders from this year (12 and 22 overall) and both of its second-rounders, and maybe even next year’s first-round pick.
If the Bills don’t leapfrog the Jets, they may lose out on UCLA’s Josh Rosen, whom I believe is the quarterback with the greatest potential. They could climb up to the fourth slot, also owned by the Browns, and still get someone like Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield. Should the Bills stay put, they could lose out on all the top quarterbacks because there is expected to be a run, with five, perhaps even six going in the first 10 picks. They’ve protected themselves by signing free agent A.J. McCarron, whom I think is going to surprise people.
By not mortgaging the future, they’d be able to fill numerous roster holes with six picks in the first three rounds. But I think they need to be bold. If they love Rosen or someone else, they have to pull the trigger. Yes, it’s a big gamble, but nothing’s without risk. And remarkably, it would be the first time in franchise history the Bills would have chosen a quarterback in the top 10.
Great, gritty run by Syracuse to reach basketball’s Sweet Sixteen. Next year could be even better. Incoming freshman forward Darius Bazley is the highest ranked SU recruit in 11 years, and he’ll be joined by blue-chip guard Jalen Carey and Jim Boeheim’s sharp-shooting son, Buddy. Returning forwards Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj have tremendous upside, and there’s hope that rehab and surgery will provide the Orange with two healthy centers. Even if top scorer Tyus Battle leaves early for the NBA, Syracuse should field a team that contends for the ACC title and the Final Four. After a year of having to do much with little, the elder Boeheim will be expected to do much with much.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.