1955 Basketball Team (2005)
The dream began to take shape during the darkening days of late autumn some fifty years ago. Scrimmaging in Alumni Gym were thirteen boys, kids of seventeen years who feared nothing and saw before them a chance to win titles and show the Chicago basketball world how good they really were. Perhaps they would carve out a little glory along the way. That they would gather together a half-century later to celebrate and remember the season of '55 was not within the scope of their imagining. They learned the game at the feet of head coach Ken Wiltgen, who had guided Loyola's heavyweight fortunes for three years. Wiltgen taught them the importance of fundamental basketball, stressing suffocating defense, aggressive rebounding, court balance, and an unselfish, "pick-and-go" passing offense. By the end of the 1954 season, he had crafted a championship-caliber team that was ready and eager to test its fate in the winter of 1955. Fate would twist unexpectedly, however, with Wiltgen's sudden departure for the college game. The loss left his boys shaken and demoralized. They would have to pick up the pieces and put the team back together themselves. They would have to trust each other. Boasting five future Hall of Fame athletes, including four who would be honored in basketball, the 1955 team took the floor with some of the finest overall talent ever assembled under a Loyola banner. The Chicago beat writers dubbed them the "Rangy Ramblers," and with good reason. Anchoring the front line stood 6'6" center Jim Gorman, an intimidating defensive presence and a prolific rebounder who was an excellent post-passer and inside scoring threat. Flanking him at one forward was 6'4" co-captain Joe Mulvaney (Hall of Fame, 2001), a peerless shooter, tough rebounder, and all-around magician in the high pivot. At the other forward was 6'3" co-captain Tom "Buzzy" O'Connor (Hall of Fame, 1998), a brilliant outside shooter known for his court smarts. In the backcourt, 6'1" Len Jardine (Hall of Fame, 1985), formidable press-breaker, playmaker, and defensive shut-down artist, was joined by 6'5" Jim Butler, a shooting guard in a postman's body. A deep and indispensable bench was led by guards Frank Hogan and Ernie Lippe, forward Ken Mizerny (Hall of Fame, 1998), and big men Bill McAdam and John Weiner. Along with juniors Tom Henehan (Hall of Fame, 2001) and Mike Kakuska, and sophomore Pat Kearney, they formed the perfect complement to the starting quintet. With first-year coach Vince Oliver and assistant Al Lesniak at the helm, the Ramblers of 1955 stormed through the regular season with an 18-4 record, highlighted by a glittering run to claim the title of the prestigious St. George Christmas tournament. After earning a share of the South Section crown, the Ramblers dispatched co-champion St. Elizabeth, avenging two earlier losses and drawing a bye in the first round of the Catholic-League playoffs. A solid 68-57 victory over St. Mel's tool Loyola to a showdown for the Catholic League title with DePaul. Playing in the old Chicago stadium, the Ramblers took the game to overtime, where they lost a heartbreaker, 62-59, and their bid for the city championship. An impressive 77-66 victory over Crane in the consolation game gave Loyola claim to third-place in the city of Chicago and closed a 20-5 season on a note of triumph. Mulvaney, Jardine, Gorman, O'Connor, and Jardine were named to the All-Catholic team, with Loyola MVP Jardine as honorary captain. Mulvaney capped off the post-season honors with a selection to the All-State Second Team. Fifty years later, the 1955 Basketball Team champion of the St. George tournament, champion of the Catholic League South Section, runner-up in the Catholic League, third-place winner in the City of Chicago championshipÑcelebrates its season of preeminence and assumes its rightful place among the elite teams in Loyola's basketball history.