By: Ed Leiser '04
Every year, college basketball and sports fans everywhere celebrate "March Madness" and enjoy watching a flurry of buzzer-beaters, upsets and Cinderella stories, in a tournament setting unlike any in sports today. This year's March Madness excitement has brought special meaning to the St. Rita High School community, with several interesting connections. When the games resume next weekend in San Antonio, St. Rita connections will be everywhere.
Perhaps the most obvious St. Rita connection is Junior Guard Charles Matthews of Michigan, from the St. Rita class of 2015. Charles is a starter for the Wolverines and was named Most Outstanding Player of the West Region, after his squad defeated Florida State to advance to the Final Four. In the Regional Final versus the Seminoles of Florida State, Matthews was especially strong, scoring a game-high 17 points and contributing eight rebounds, two blocks and a steal. He was a key reason why Michigan advanced to the Final Four, and also captured this year's Big Ten Tournament title.
Of course, many at St. Rita were not surprised to see Matthews in a starring role so far in the tournament, as Matthews was an All-Catholic League performer and a four-year member of the varsity basketball team, while at St. Rita. The top-50 recruit was highly recruited nationally coming out of St. Rita, ultimately heading to Kentucky to play for one of the nation's best college basketball programs. After one year of limited playing time, Matthews transferred to Michigan and sat out the 2016-17 season, per NCAA transfer rules. Coming into this year, however, Matthews was ready to not only play more--but to shine on the court, and he averaged 13 points-per-game and over five rebounds per game during the regular season.
The Matthews name is a familiar one around the halls of St. Rita, too. Charles' older brother, Dominique (St. Rita Class of 2014), is currently playing college basketball for the University of Illinois-Chicago, while his younger brother, Jordan, is a current senior at St. Rita and was a standout member of the varsity Mustangs. Basketball success runs deep in the Matthews family, clearly!
The Loyola Ramblers are shocking the basketball world right now, and they, too, have a St. Rita alumnus on the roster--though not a face you'll see too often on the court. Matt Gordon, St. Rita Class of 2001, is an Assistant Coach for the Ramblers, currently in his 7th season working under Head Coach Porter Moser. Gordon was a starting member of the 2000-01 Mustangs basketball team as a guard (playing for former Head Coach and Athletic Director, John Bonk), and then went on to pursue coaching at Illinois State, Saint Louis University and the Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA, before taking a seat on the bench with Loyola University.
But the St. Rita/Loyola connection doesn't stop there. One name that some fans may not recognize is Jack Egan. Jack is a 1960 St. Rita graduate and former Mustangs basketball star, who went on to play collegiately at Loyola and was a starting guard for the 1963 national championship Loyola team, in Jack's junior season. The 1963 Ramblers remain the only Illinois school to ever win the NCAA tournament. As irony would have it, Jack's senior year ended with a loss in the NCAA tournament to...Michigan--Loyola's opponent in San Antonio this weekend.
On the other side of the bracket, you won't find another St. Rita alumnus, but it is worth noting (and perhaps cheering for) that the Villanova Wildcats are, like St. Rita High School, an Augustinian-run school. We always cheer for our Augustinian schools around the country and will certainly support Villanova as they continue their tournament run. Let's hope they meet up with one of our St. Rita alumni in the national championship game on Monday, April 2nd. Good luck to all of our St. Rita alumni and connections in this weekends' NCAA Final Four!
Last year's March Madness tournament was also unique for St. Rita and the basketball program as alumni Vic Law '14 (Northwestern University) and Tony Hicks '12 (University of Louisville) were represented in the 64-team tournament, as well. March is becoming a special time for St. Rita basketball fans and our proud alumni as well. Go Mustangs!