While the Loyola men’s basketball team’s postseason appearances ended in Pittsburgh March 18, graduate guard Lucas Williamson wasn’t done. He became the third Rambler in the last 16 seasons to compete in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament April 13-16.
The tournament, which is held every year in Portsmouth, Virginia, has been running for 67 years and brings together 64 senior players from schools from all three division levels across the country. In addition to the players, the tournament welcomes scouts and general managers from the NBA.
“The [tournament] has a whole committee,” Williamson said about his selection to compete. “They watch the NCAA season in general and they invite people based off of that… I got the invitation in the week between the NCAA Tournament [in Pittsburgh.]”
The 64 players were then divided into eight teams named after businesses in the Portsmouth area. Williamson competed on the Norfolk Sports Club team, which was coached by Mike Head, Mark Butts and Isaiah Austin.
Austin played at Baylor University during the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 seasons and led the Bears to a championship victory in the National Invitational Tournament in 2013.
Austin declared for the NBA Draft in 2014, but was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome before the draft. He was named as a ceremonial pick by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and began a professional career overseas after being medically cleared in 2016.
During the tournament, Williamson competed on the same team as a former opponent — one of his teammates was Jordan Usher, a graduate player at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Usher put up 15 points against Loyola during the matchup in the first round of last year’s March Madness March 19, 2021.
Also playing on the Norfolk Sports Club team were Nysier Brooks from the University of Mississippi, Keve Aluma from Virginia Technical University, Ryan Hawkins from Creighton University, Jared Rhoden from Seton Hall University and Courtney Ramey from the University of Texas.
The team also featured Trevor Hudgins from Northwest Missouri State University, who was the only player to compete in the tournament from a Division II school and was named the National Association of Basketball Coaches D-II Player of the Year in 2021 and 2022.
Williamson said he arrived the day before the tournament started April 12 and the team practiced for about an hour in the afternoon on Wednesday before facing its first competitor at 7 p.m. that night.
Williamson contributed two points and an assist, steal and block during the team’s 78-67 victory over the Jani-King team April 13. Because the team won its first game, it avoided playing on Thursday, April 14.
“It was interesting especially coming from a structured program like Loyola and playing with guys I’ve been playing with for years,” Williamson said about the quick transition from meeting his teammates to competing. “It was definitely something new that I had to experience out there.”
The Norfolk Sports Club team went on to fall to the Roger Browns Restaurant team 88-82 April 15, but Williamson logged 10 points, four assists, two rebounds and a steal.
After losing the second game, Williamson’s team went on to compete in the consolation game April 16. The team took down the Mike Duman Auto Sales team 87-58 to finish third in the tournament, during which Williamson contributed three points and five assists.
Despite his team’s success in the tournament, Williamson said the highlight was the experiences and friendships the tournament gave him.
“The process was a little surreal for me,” Williamson said. “The fact that I got to sit down and talk to scouts and actually have NBA interviews was actually kind of crazy. That and being able to meet people. … I wasn’t expecting to make friends like that.”
Williamson was the first player from the Ramblers’ roster to represent Loyola in the tournament since Milton Doyle in 2017 and the third in 16 years after Blake Schilb in 2007. Both Doyle and Schilb went on to have professional careers overseas.
“It’s awesome being able to represent Loyola,” Williamson said. “Everything that I’m going to be going forward is trying to continue to put Loyola in that conference of being a national program. Whatever success I have, Loyola gets to reap the same benefits.”