Sister Jean phenomenon reaches Final Four stage

Loyola's Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt arrives at a news conference for the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Friday, March 30, 2018, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Loyola's Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt arrives at a news conference for the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Friday, March 30, 2018, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

San Antonio — Sister Jean never expected to be here. Well, if she did, she never expected it to be quite like this.

If you haven’t heard — an impressive feat, at this point — Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt is the Chaplain for Loyola (Chicago). Throughout the NCAA tournament she’s become perhaps the most recognizable figure on the team, if not the sport, sitting just off the Ramblers’ bench throughout their cinderella run.

Now, she’s on her biggest stage yet.

“I never even imagined two or three (cameras), let alone this large group,” she said. “Everything just seemed to mushroom, and I could never tell you how that happens.”

Friday’s Final Four festivities at the Alamodome began with a Sister Jean press conference, which was packed by TV cameras and reporters alike.

Her face is just about everywhere, including socks, shirts and even team-issued bobblehead. Sister Jean, to date, has taken it all in stride.

“I’m not saying this in a proud fashion,” she said, “I think the company could retire when they’re finished making these bobbleheads.”

It’s also a good reminder, though, of how tricky it can be to navigate the atmosphere.

Toward the end of her 15-minute media session, Sister Jean was asked if she thinks God is a basketball fan.

“He’s probably a basketball fan more of the NCAA than the NBA,” she continued. “I say that because these young people are playing with their hearts and not for any financial assistance.”

In the wake of the FBI investigation into college basketball and numerous debates about whether or not college athletes should be compensated beyond the scholarships and other benefits, that comment bounced around social media.

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Others commented on the amount of attention she’s received compared to the attention being given to the players. That point was made into a visual by a tweet from Chicago Tribune photojournalist Brian Cassella, who took pictures comparing the packed house of dozens, if not hundreds of media members for Sister Jean and a press conference for a Loyola player, where only three reporters sat in the front row of seating.

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“I’ve never seen a room so packed,” remarked one media member of Sister Jean’s press conference. “Like it was hard to get in the room.”

NBA player and former Wisconsin Final Four participant Frank Kaminsky, in fact, retweeted a tweet saying the “Sister Jean thing has gone too far,” and that she’s “taken all the attention away from the players.”

Not everyone, agrees, though.

Ben Richardson, a Loyola player and former Overland Park product, said Sister Jean has a “calming effect” on the team, adding “it’s really special” to have her around.

Clayton Custer, Richardson’s teammate — both now and back at Blue Valley Northwest — has previously commented he’s glad she’s getting the chance to share her message, while freshman forward Christian Negron said she “deserves all the recognition she is getting.”

Even Michigan coach John Beilein has joined in on the phenomenon.

“It’s absolutely terrific,” Beilein said. “I had a priest, not even at my own parish, stop mass at the end of mass on Tuesday and say, ‘They have Sister Jean. You have everybody here praying for you.’”

Regardless, to hear it from Sister Jean, she’s simply having the time of her life.

“I can’t believe it. Even in the morning, I wake up and I say, ‘Is this real or is it a dream?’” she said. “And I say, ‘No, it’s really for really.’

“This is the most fun I’ve had in my life. It is just so much fun for me to be here, and I almost didn’t get here, but I fought hard enough to do that because I wanted to be with the guys.”

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