Hunter Atkins

Highland grad Hunter Atkins averaged 13.7 points a game his senior year at Loyola.

I used to call scoring machine Hunter Atkins "The Bus" during his basketball days because he took opponents to school.

He seemed destined for the NBA.

At Highland, the three-time team MVP had 1,494 career points, including 50 against Lake Central in 1987 — both school records.

He averaged 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists as a senior and was everybody's Player of The Year.

Atkins wasn't named to the Indiana All-Star Team, for some strange reason, and it remains a sore spot today.

It was on to the University of Mississippi for two years, then transferring to Loyola in Chicago where the 6-foot-3 guard played 54 games from 1990-92.

"The Bus" continued to roll, never sputtering.

Atkins was the Ramblers' No. 2 scorer at 13.7 ppg. his first year, which included a career-best 30 points against St. Louis.

He still shares the Loyola record for 3-pointers in a game with eight.

Atkins caught the attention of the Clippers and Kings after college, but figured baseball was a better fit and tried out with the Astros as an infielder.

Undrafted, he returned to Loyola to finish his Master's. A year later, an invitation to play basketball in Finland fell through.

Today, the married father of two lives in St. John and works with cyber security software.

By winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament last weekend, his Ramblers are in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1985, when they made the Sweet Sixteen.

Sunday's draw could be the start of a memorable trek through the postseason with Atkins high atop the bandwagon.

"I've been following them and it's definitely been jacked up this year for sure," Atkins said. "Munster's Joe Crisman went there and I followed his career. I've gone back to some social events and played in an alumni game.

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"I got to hang out with Jerry Harkness and guys like Johnny Egan and Les Hunter from the (1963) national championship team. Jerry was our announcer when I played and I know him well."

The Region influence has impacted Loyola basketball over the years.

LaPorte's Eric Dolezal and T.F. North's Don Sobczak were teammates of Atkins, who later joined the Michigan City Rogers duo of Keith Gailes, Keir Rogers plus Dolezal on the Ramblers' All-Decade Team of the 1990s.

Gailes averaged a whopping 24.7 ppg. during his career and is the No. 2 scorer in school history behind Alfredrick Hughes.

As this season unfolded, Atkins saw reason for excitement. "I told my family and friends: 'You know what? This team is pretty damn good. They're fun to watch,'" he said. "They have good guards, some very good role players, a strong bench.

"After they beat No. 5 Florida, I really took notice."

Atkins tips his cap to coach Porter Moser, now in his seventh season, for being able to successfully recruit throughout Chicagoland as well as the Region and Kansas City-St. Louis areas.

"And that's big, with all the talent in Chicago," Atkins said. "He's got them on TV, in prime-time, and kids are now saying, 'Hey, that where I want to go.'

"Moser is enthusiastic, a basketball junkie who coached under Rick Majerus, preaches defense and is a strict disciplinarian who lets the kids play."

Two of Loyola's leanest years came when Atkins, Dolezal and Sobczak played and that tested some players' love of the game as coach Will Rey's teams went 10-19 and 13-16.

The Region contingent wouldn't allow it and approached every game as if the score was tied with seconds remaining.

Atkins lit the family grill and held a viewing party for last Saturday's semifinal game with Bradley. Friends, food and lots of good conversation.

But Sunday against Illinois State, he watched the championship alone, "really locked in."

After all, history was being made.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.