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Former Loyola player in KC hopeful for another national title

Posted at 8:53 PM, Mar 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-28 23:17:33-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A member of the 1963 NCAA men's basketball championship-winning Loyola-Chicago team who now lives in the metro says this year's Ramblers squad has the potential to once again win a title.

Les Hunter was the starting center for Loyola-Chicago when the team made its run in the 1960's.

Back then, he said the team had tremendous talent.

"We kind of expected to be in the mix all year long," he explained. "We were winning by 50 and 60 points sometimes. We ended up averaging 92 points a game and that’s without a three-point shot.” 

Despite the team's skills, Hunter said the Ramblers had to overcome obstacles both on and off the court.

During the civil rights movement that decade, he told 41 Action News that Loyola-Chicago fought through racial barriers. 

"When we played in the south, because we started four black players, it was unheard of at that time," he explained.

Hunter remembered back to the game Loyola-Chicago played against Mississippi State during the NCAA tournament in 1963.

Due to Loyola-Chicago's decision to start black players, the governor of Mississippi issued an injunction against the Mississippi State team to stop the game from happening.

However, Hunter said the opposing team found ways to make the game happen.

"The coaching staff drove their personal cars to Tennessee just to avoid being served with the injunction," he explained. "There was a handshake at the start of the game. It was just flashbulbs going off at the start. That’s when we realized this is a historic game.” 

Loyola-Chicago was able to defeat Mississippi State on its way to the championship game.

Over 50 years later, Hunter can still remember significant moments from the title clash against Cincinnati in 1963.

"We won 60-58 in overtime," he explained. "I took a shot. It hit the front of the rim. Vic Rouse, who I had gone to school with, was there to tip it in.” 

The Ramblers captured the NCAA title and would eventually receive all sorts of other honors over the next several decades.

The 1963 team was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and members were able to meet President Barack Obama in 2013.

With the Ramblers now back in the Final Four this year, Hunter said he would be rooting for the team to bring home another title.

"I really think Loyola has a good opportunity to win the whole thing," he explained. "They help each other and they move as a group.” 

Moving forward, he said the current squad can take a lesson from the 1963 team.

"If you play as a unit and you’re the best unit out there, you can win it," Hunter explained.

Hunter told 41 Action News that members of the 1963 team will be in attendance during Loyola-Chicago's Final Four game but he will not be able to attend.

The Ramblers take on the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday in San Antonio, Texas.

The winner will advance to the 2018 championship game.