Former UND center enjoying the Sweet 16 with Loyola Chicago
When former UND 7-foot center Carson Shanks was contemplating a transfer destination last offseason, the Apple Valley, Minn., native didn't have any background on his eventual landing spot.
"I had heard of Loyola Marymount, but to be honest I had never really heard of another Loyola," Shanks said.
As March Madness plays out, fans around the country are having a similar experience as Shanks, who took advantage of the graduate transfer rule to land at Loyola Chicago.
As a No. 11 seed out of the Missouri Valley Conference, the Ramblers are introducing themselves to the country as the darling of this year's Sweet 16.
The Ramblers, who are in the tournament for the first time since 1985, used late buzzer-beaters to knock off No. 6 Miami in the first round and No. 3 Tennessee in the second round.
Loyola's run has thrust a good-luck charm of sorts into the public spotlight, as well. Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, a 98-year old nun and team chaplin, has been at the forefront of national coverage of the team.
Shanks was a piece of that Sister Jean craze following the Tennessee upset, when he hugged her postgame.
"I woke up the morning after the Tennessee game and I'm hugging Sister Jean on SportsCenter," Shanks said. "What world am I living in right now? It's the most surreal experience of my life."
Shanks and the Ramblers face No. 7 Nevada in the Sweet 16 at 6:07 p.m.Thursday in Atlanta.
"It's been pretty amazing," Shanks said. "Obviously last year was a special experience with UND and making it to the Big Dance and this year has been the best victory lap a senior could have. It feels like I'm living in a movie right now, and I'm so lucky to be part of it.
"I have watched the NCAA tournament as long as I've been watching basketball, and I've always been a guy to pull for the underdog. I remember Vermont beating Syracuse and the George Mason run. To be part of a story that will go down in tournament history is something I couldn't dream up. It's been incredible."
Shanks transferred to UND in 2014 after a semester at Utah State to join his childhood friend and UND star Quinton Hooker, who was a senior in 2017.
A role player with the Fighting Hawks, Shanks played 19 minutes in UND's 100-82 loss to Arizona in the NCAA tournament last year. Shanks finished with five points and two rebounds.
He has yet to see any playing time for Loyola in the first two rounds.
"Playing wise, I'm not getting the minutes I got at UND but from an experience standpoint, it has given me incredible memories for the rest of my life," Shanks said.
Shanks, who wants to try professional basketball overseas after the Ramblers' run, is enrolled in graduate school at Loyola for a degree in Digital Media and Storytelling.
Shanks, who said he talks to UND coach Brian Jones every few weeks, wants to pursue coaching basketball after his pro career. He coached for the Fastbreak Club in Grand Forks for four years before transferring.
"Coach Jones is still a huge influence in my life," Shanks said. "Coaches like Jones (and the rest of the UND staff) influenced me more than they know. I'd love to do that in the future for any number of kids."
As for tonight, he's hoping to help any way he can.
"I'm just here to be a big brother," Shanks said. "I'm the old guy on the team. I've been lucky to have great upperclassmen to guide me through my career. I'm trying to be that voice for all the guys on this team. At the same time, if my name is called anywhere down the line, I know I'll be ready because I played for great coaches who prepared me to do things like that."