Michigan basketball has a lot to overcome in Sister Jean, hoops-loving nun

by | Mar 28, 2018 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

Well, this just isn’t fair. After beating Montana, Houston, Texas A&M and Florida State, the Michigan Wolverines now have to defeat God.

OK, maybe not God, His or Herself. But one of God’s more dedicated servants. A nun. And not just a nun. A 98-year-old nun. And not just a 98-year-old nun, but a sweet, charismatic, not even 5-foot tall, 98-year-old nun named Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, who wears Nike sneakers with her name on the heels, who has been at Loyola University Chicago for more than 50 years, and who is the chaplain for its basketball team, the Ramblers, the biggest underdog story in years.

Michigan has to beat all that on Saturday in the Final Four.

Noah had an easier task.

“What did you give up for Lent?” a reporter asked Sister Jean.

“Losing,’’ she said.

Come on. How do you beat that? How do you take on a great-grandma-aged Sister who wears a backwards baseball cap and a team jacket? You’d get scolded for forgetting to say hello to her. But defeat her basketball team?

I fear for the Wolverines’ souls.

And that’s not a sentence you often read in a sports section.

But this is no ordinary team chaplain. Ever since a miracle last-second shot went in to end its first-round game in the NCAA tournament, Loyola-Chicago has become better known for its chaplain than its box score. Last weekend, a reporter suggested Sister Jean had become a national celebrity.

“International celebrity,” Sister Jean corrected.

Oh, boy.

Pro tip: Don’t talk trash to a nun

Here is Sister Jean’s pregame prayer, as she explained in a March 20 interview with “Good Morning America”: “I begin with ‘Good and gracious God, today we hope to win this game. … We already have the confidence … we want to be sure when the buzzer goes off … that we get the big W.’ ”

That’s not as bad as David asking God to blot his enemies from the Book of Life. Then again, it’s only basketball. All you need are points — not a Red Sea parting.

By the way, Sister Jean also told the media, “I pray for the other team — perhaps not as hard.”

Meanwhile, Michigan offered a weak counter through Jalen Rose’s Instagram account, where he posted his 100-year-old grandmother looking in the camera and saying, “Sister Jean, it’s been a good ride, but it’s over Saturday.”

I know Jalen likes to hail his Fab Five days. But do you really want to trash talk a nun?

Maybe John Beilein has a steadier approach. He went to a Jesuit school himself and coached at two Jesuit colleges. That should help. And there have been many surprising moments this year when Wolverines fans have shouted, “Oh my God!”

Does that count?

If trumpets sound, look out!

“We have God on our side” Sister Jean told the media. Now. I know what she means. And she intends no malice. But I always figured unless you’re playing Hades Academy in Demonville, God isn’t taking sides in a basketball game. Hey, Notre Dame didn’t even make the tournament!

Still, a 2013 survey showed that more than a quarter of American sports fans believe God helps determine which teams win in sports. And Sister Jean now has a line of T-shirts and hats (she’s forsaking all funds and directing them to charity) to spread her influence. She even has her own bobblehead!

Mother Teresa never got one of those.

So perhaps there is reason for U-M fans to worry. It’s one thing to knock out Loyola in the first or second round. That’s expected. But now that the Ramblers are two wins from the championship, anyone who stands in their way might be smote with lightning.

Imagine hitting a 3-pointer against Loyola, then running down the court and seeing the disappointed look in a 98-year-old nun’s eyes. Talk about guilt!

Or you’re about to shoot a free throw and there’s Sister Jean, giving you that “Remember what you learned in Sunday school” look. You might drop the ball and run to confession.

Let’s face it. Through no fault of her own, Sister Jean has become the most powerful sixth man — or sixth woman — in the tournament. And if the Wolverines have a late lead Saturday, they better hope she doesn’t flip open her Bible to “What profits a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?”

They might trade their jerseys for sackcloth.

All of which suggests that while the Wolverines, fearfully and wonderfully made, have beaten a 6-seed, a 7-seed and a 9-seed to reach the Final Four, the 11-seed comes with the most “awe”-some intangibles. It’s true, a nun in a wheelchair won’t scare many basketball players.

But if trumpets sound when the Ramblers run out, I’d be careful.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!