Wallace in middle of Loyola hype

FOCUS. Yes, focus on the task ahead. Kenny Wallace, disciplined by nature, never faced that quandary.

The former Mathews Mustang entered his weekly history class at Loyola University in Chicago.

It was 4:15 p.m., central standard time.

Midterm exam. Focus on the task at hand.

Kind of hard to do around this campus, especially when the 11th-seeded Ramblers men’s basketball team was in a virtual deadlock with sixth-seeded Miami in the NCAA Tournament.

Two minutes remaining. Time for class.

His professor told him the exam comes first, then a lecture to follow. It’s a class that’s once a week for two and half hours. Lots of material to cover.

Loyola, which hasn’t made the tournament since 1985, had a wave of Rambler pride sweep over the university. It even trickled into Wallace’s history course.

The projector in class showed the final two minutes of the game, which in normal time equals to about 20 to 25 minutes. Tons of video replays, timeouts and commercial breaks.

Down one, seconds left, Donte Ingram let the ball leave his hands and fingertips behind the top of the 3-point line.

History made as the tide of Loyola swept over an upset-laden NCAA Tournament, trickling into a weekly history course as excitement overtook this small grouping of students and professors.

Exam followed and the class was dismissed.

“Teacher kind of threw that under the bus and said, ‘Let’s go Loyola,’ “ Wallace said.

He’s seen plenty of news channels, which are hard to avoid around campus as the hype has escalated with each step of the tournament.

Loyola had another close call to upend third-seeded Tennessee in a topsy-turvy South Region. Next up is seventh-seeded Nevada, which rallied from 20-plus points to bury second-seeded Cincinnati.

Ironically, Wallace had his picture taken with the men’s basketball team chaplain, Sister Jean, during orientation. The 98-year-old nun has taken on a life of her own, spotlighted and reminiscing on the team’s 1963 NCAA Championship.

Is Wallace heading to Atlanta? He’d like to, but he runs outdoor track and he’s on academic and athletic scholarships. Tonight, he’ll have a night off to watch this Sweet 16 matchup around 7 p.m.

Some of his fellow students are making the pilgrimage to Atlanta and the amount of students and alumni support has increased as much as the media coverage.

Wallace has been traveling since being at Loyola as part of the cross country team. He made the Missouri Valley Conference championships and was the last member of the regional team — facing some of the best competition in the nation.

The Mathews High School standout was sick during indoor track season, but hopes to rebound during the outdoor season in the 1,500-meter and 5K races.

He’d like to try steeplechase as well, but knows how difficult that could be. Former Maplewood runner Craig Rupe, while running for the University of Akron, fell and broke both of his wrists while running at a meet in Stanford about a decade ago.

“Definitely not a race for the faint of heart,” Wallace said.

Neither is this surge by Loyola.

He predicted the Ramblers would make the Sweet 16, but the NCAA prohibits student-athletes, coaches and athletic department employees to bet on games. No bracket for him.

That doesn’t mean he can’t support Loyola with a shirt, one that he had under his Chelsea zipper jacket.

He follows soccer as well, even counting down the days to this year’s World Cup on his Twitter account. Wallace is rooting for Spain since the underachieving American team couldn’t beat lowly Trinidad and Tobago in a World Cup qualifier. Seriously? Yes, I’m still bitter.

But back to this Loyola team. It’s a Ramblers team that was horrific when it was in the Horizon League.

The MVC changed that and the culture of a program that has been one of the darlings of the NCAA Tournament. You bet I’ll be rooting for Loyola tonight.

Who knows, a former Horizon League team made the national championship game twice. That was Butler, led by Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

“Hopefully we can be Butler 2.0. Couple more games and we’re there,” Wallace said.

He’ll be wearing his Ramblers gear, rooting on his men’s basketball team tonight.

Not bad for his first year at a place he was meant to be.

“I was looking at (nearby) DePaul, but thank God I didn’t go there,” Wallace said. “This is the place to be, honestly. This is THE place to be in Chicago.”