– Carson Shanks knew how much Sister Jean meant to the Loyola Chicago program, so he felt more pressure getting the team’s 98-year-old inspirational chaplain onto the team plane safely following the team’s Sweet 16 victory over Tennessee than he ever did on the court.

The 7-foot senior center from Prior Lake and Loyola teammate Cameron Krutwig were told by Ramblers coach Porter Moser to help Sister Jean up a staircase since there was no ramp to get her wheelchair on board.

“We had an old plane we were boarding,” Shanks said. “We were like, this is certainly more nerve-racking than anything we’ve ever done in our entire lives. This is the world’s sweetheart we were trying to get her up in this plane. She’s as big a part of this as any player or any coach.”

Turns out, Sister Jean barely needed help from Loyola’s two biggest players, but it was one of several memorable moments for Shanks during this magical run. As the lone Minnesota native on a Final Four team this year, he definitely feels the support back home. Shanks is a reserve player who got tournament playing time in Saturday’s 16-point victory over Kansas State to advance to San Antonio.

Shanks, who transferred after reaching the NCAA tournament with North Dakota last year, said he has received text messages and calls from several players from Minnesota, including former Lakeville North star J.P. Macura, whose top-seeded Xavier team lost in the second round this year. Growing up in Apple Valley, Shanks said Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones and Duke guard Gary Trent Jr., both former Eagles standouts, used to watch the Super Bowl at his house.

“There are so many great Minnesota players in college basketball,” Shanks said. “The fact that I’m the only one left is pretty crazy. It’s an honor, because I really feel Minnesota is on the come-up in basketball. Being in the Final Four is something you dream of playing in the back gyms at 8 a.m. in Minnetonka for a traveling team. You think about it, and now that I’m here it’s bizarre and amazing.”

Mom making overseas trip to watch

Kansas sophomore Udoka Azubuike will play in front of his mother for the first time Saturday. Azubuike said his mother, Florence, had her visa approved to travel to the U.S. from France. She lives in Nigeria. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., stepped in to help make it happen, tweeting the news Thursday.

The 7-foot former McDonald’s All-America left Nigeria in ninth grade to play in Jacksonville, Fla. Azubuike’s father died when he was in grade school, and he hasn’t seen his mother in six years.

“She’s never seen me play,” he said. “The process never really came true until the Final Four and when the NCAA can sponsor your parents coming to the states. I talked to my coaches about it. We just started working. At first, I thought it wasn’t going to be possible.”