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Lucas Williamson Finds Passion Narrating Documentary on Loyola’s 1963 Title

The Ramblers’ guard was the voice behind a project documenting one of college basketball’s most impactful moments.

Had Lucas Williamson not committed to Loyola University Chicago in April 2017, he might not have played in a Final Four just a year later. But there’s one thing he’s sure he would have missed out on, and that’s learning about the “Game of Change,” a moment in college basketball history that came during the 1962–63 season—which was also the last time the Ramblers went as far in the NCAA tournament as they did in Williamson’s rookie year.

Now in his fifth season on the Loyola squad, Williamson narrates that same story of the 1963 Ramblers in The Loyola Project, a documentary highlighting the team’s path to the national title, which includes the historic regional semifinals against Mississippi State.

The film premiered on CBS Sports Network on Feb. 7 in honor of Black History Month and will also be screened later in the week, once at a theater in Chicago and once at Gentile Arena on the Loyola campus.

Production of the The Loyola Project began in 2020 before the killing of George Floyd sparked protests and calls for change across the country. Williamson grew up in Chicago himself and saw a lot of similarities between the story, his own life and director (also a Chicago native) Patrick Creadon’s journey. For him, the chance to work on a success story during this time is what drew him to the project.

“As a Black kid growing up in the city, you want to hear these types of success stories,” Williamson says. “There’s not that many stories like that in Black history. So much of it is rooted in tragedy and rooted in trauma that it diminishes hope a little bit. … This story is unique. They came out on top, and they won a championship in the end. They’re winners at the end of the day.”

Loyola Chicago s Lucas Williamson (1) takes a three-point shot as the Loyola Chicago Ramblers play the University of Evansville Purple Aces.

On March 15, 1963, Mississippi State was scheduled to play Loyola with an all-white lineup but was banned from playing integrated teams by a state legislative order. On the other hand, the Ramblers’ head coach at the time, George Ireland, played four Black starters, breaking the status quo of having no more than a few Black players on the court at once. But the game went on, as is described in the film, after the Bulldogs sneaked away from campus to face the Ramblers in East Lansing, Mich. Ireland’s squad won 61–51.

Happening in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement, the “Game of Change” was a significant step in breaking down racial barriers in college basketball. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” less than one month after the game took place. Two months after that, Governor George Wallace stood at the University of Alabama entrance in a failed attempt to block two Black students from registering, prompting President John F. Kennedy to send the National Guard to Tuscaloosa.

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“When you talk about Glory Road, for example, everybody knows that story,” Williamson says. “What's so different about Glory Road and what the ‘63 team did? Why don't we know the story?”

As the voice behind The Loyola Project, he has spent the last two years squeezing in 20-minute narration sessions in his “personal studio” (otherwise known as his closet) between practices, games and classes.

Williamson went to Whitney Young Magnet High School, in Chicago, before joining Loyola. Now, he is one of the top defensive players in the country and a key part of Loyola’s success in the postseason; he was named Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year after his senior season and led the squad in scoring during the 2021 NCAA tournament run. He graduated in ’21 as a journalism major with Spanish and management minors and is now working toward a graduate degree in digital marketing.

Head coach Drew Valentine has seen Williamson’s growth on the squad since he was a rookie. He joined the Ramblers as an assistant in 2017, and now in his first season as head coach, Valentine is quick to call the guard an ambassador on and off the court.

“Although he finds value and identity in basketball, I think he knows there's so much more to life than just what’s in between those lines or what's in an arena,” Valentine says. “He’s definitely found his voice and his purpose, and what he’s passionate about, at Loyola.”

As he gets closer to embarking on the quest for his own national title, Williamson hopes his work as both a narrator and cowriter on the film will help ease others into conversations about race.

“What I hope is that the film becomes an outlet for other people. It’s like an easy way to ease into these harder conversations that we have to have as a society, as a nation,” Williamson says. “If we were to just simply talk like,All right, we're gonna talk about racism in America,’ nobody really wants to do that. That's awkward or intimidating. But if we slide in a nice little sports story, now we can dissect the story and in doing so, we're talking about [it].”

That’s when The Loyola Project shines the brightest, Williamson says, in the way it teaches viewers about the 1963 team while also bridging the gap between the past and the present. His narration will take the story of the “Game of Change” to new ears and new minds. Even after the film’s release, Williamson’s voice will carry on—the same way he plans to take his team into the postseason. 

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