Father McGrath talks Jesuit mission: Loyola President Patrick McGrath spoke to the boys basketball team before Thursday’s practice in advance of Friday’s Jesuit Cup doubleheader against St. Ignatius at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.

McGrath’s message to the Ramblers centered on living a large life, to share the gifts God gave each of them with the world. He closed his 15-minute speech by saying “beat St. Ignatius.”

“This is a big game because of our rivalry with them, but you realize it’s more than basketball,” Loyola senior and team captain Pete Mangan said. “When I saw Cardinal Blasé Cupich at last year’s game, it really hit me how big of a deal this is to so many people.”

Friday will be the first high school games at Wintrust Arena, which opened October 2017 and is home to the DePaul University men’s and women’s basketball teams. The Loyola and St. Ignatius girls tip off at 5:30 p.m., and the boys game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

Loyola junior Julia Martinez said she’s excited about playing in a college arena for the first time.

A Division I recruit, she went to Wintrust Arena to watch the DePaul women play Saint Louis University on Nov. 18. Martinez said both programs are interested in her playing for them.

“It’s a gorgeous gym,” she said. “I think it’s a big deal to play at a place like that.”

While Wintrust Arena is a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility that seats more than 10,000 people, Mangan said there’s value in playing the game in the intimate setting of a high school gym.

“I think it’s going to be awesome to play there, but I will miss the packed-in crowd like the one we had last year at home,” he said.

Jesuit Cup rivalry: Mangan said no game in the regular season is bigger than when the Ramblers (16-3, 3-1 Catholic Blue) play St. Ignatius (10-7, 0-3) for the Jesuit Cup. He was on last season’s team that beat the Wolfpack 47-36 to return the trophy to Loyola for the first time since 2014.

“It’s the best atmosphere we play in,” he said.

Mangan’s older brother — 2015 graduate Mike Mangan — went 1-1 against St. Ignatius, winning the Jesuit Cup as a junior.

This will be Martinez’s third Jesuit Cup. Even though the Ramblers (17-4, 3-1 GCAC Red) have won 15 in a row against St. Ignatius (14-4, 1-2), she said it still is a meaningful game every year.

“We want to keep the streak going,” she said. “It’s an important game, and it’s always a good battle.”

Kwiecinski twins continue to evolve: Before they even played a varsity game, 6-foot-6 sophomore twins Bennett and Jordan Kwiecinski each had scholarship offers from DePaul.

Now, the Kwiecinskis are attracting attention for their play on the court. Their father, Dennis Kwiecinski, starred as a basketball player at Evanston and University of Texas at Arlington.

The younger Kwiecinskis have started multiple games this season and usually are on the floor in the fourth quarter.

“They have a high ceiling, but they are the most improved players on our team,” Loyola head coach Tom Livatino said.

Jordan averages 3.9 points and 2.0 rebounds. Defensively, he has 14 deflections and 13 blocks. Bennett (pictured above) averages 3.2 points and 3.2 rebounds. In Loyola’s 48-38 win over DePaul Prep on Friday, he dribbled by his defender from the top of the key and threw down a dunk.

Mangan said he’s seen the progress in both Kwiecinskis.

“They have gotten better every single day,” he said. “They are more active and playing with more confidence. They are a huge part of how good we can be.”

Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola