Most casual basketball fans around the area know that, prior to becoming the boys head basketball coach at Fenwick High School, Rick Malnati excelled as the head coach at his high school alma mater, New Trier.

But did you know that, sandwiched between those two plum high school hoops gigs, Malnati worked for two years on the Loyola University Chicago men’s basketball staff? Yes, those beloved Ramblers, who have captured the imagination of not only college basketball fans but folks who love inspirational stories, with their improbable run to the NCAA Tournament Final Four.

In 2011, Malnati worked as assistant to Loyola head coach Porter Moser and became an assistant coach the following season.

“I learned a ton from Porter,” Malnati said. “I was also able to watch a lot of film of what other coaches and teams do. The experience I had at the college level broadened my understanding of the game.”

The Ramblers (32-5), one of the best Cinderella stories in NCAA tournament history, join perennial powers Michigan, Kansas and Villanova at the Alamodome in San Antonio for this weekend’s Final Four.

Loyola is vying for its second NCAA Division I championship. The Ramblers beat two-time defending national champion Cincinnati 60-58 in overtime in the 1963 NCAA championship game. River Forest resident John Egan started at point guard for Loyola that magical season.

While Moser, top players Clayton Custer and Donte Ingram and, of course, team chaplain Sister Jean share the headlines for this year’s Ramblers, Malnati can feel pride knowing he helped build this basketball powerhouse that nobody saw coming.

As for Moser, he has always been a fan of Malnati, who has made a seamless transition from the Jesuits at Loyola to the Dominicans at Fenwick.

“Not only was he a valuable member of the staff, but he was also a good friend,” Porter said about Malnati’s hiring at Fenwick. “Rick has the ability to impact people’s lives and I know he will do just that at Fenwick.”

Loyola takes on Michigan, Saturday, March 31, in the first national semifinal game. The game will be televised at 5:09 p.m. on TBS.

FitzGerald’s Nightclub will show the game on their big projection screens in the nightclub, SideBar and tent. FitzGerald’s is located at 6615 W. Roosevelt on the Berwyn side. For more information, call 708-788-2118 or visit www.fitzgeraldsnightclub.com.

Go Ramblers!

Marty Farmer

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...