San Antonio — Saddi Washington and Drew Valentine knew this might happen.
Almost three weeks ago as selection Sunday loomed, they realized there was a chance their paths could meet in the NCAA Tournament. But back then, they were thinking it might happen in the first round.
Never did Washington and Valentine, both Lansing natives, think they’d be squaring off in the Final Four.
Yet, here they are — Washington in his second season as an assistant under John Beilein at Michigan and Valentine in his first as an assistant to Porter Moser at Loyola-Chicago. The teams meet at 6:09 p.m. Saturday for the right to play in Monday’s national championship game.
“It’s a special time for both of us,” Washington said Thursday inside Michigan’s locker room at the Alamodome. “I mean way back after we both won our conference tournaments we were waiting for the selection show and we’re on the phone and I’m like, ‘I hope we don’t have to play you guys in the first round,’ because it was one of those things that could have been probable at the time.
“Low and behold, fast forward (a few) weeks later and we’re playing each other in Final Four.”
It’s been quite a journey for the former Lansing Sexton stars to be squaring off on college basketball’s biggest stage. But, in a way, it’s almost fitting. Even though their time at Sexton was separated by 15 years, Washington and Valentine have been on similar paths.
Washington spent seven years playing professionally after earning All-MAC honors twice at Western Michigan, and after spending a season assisting Nate Oats — now the head coach at Buffalo — at Romulus High, Washington joined Greg Kampe’s staff at Oakland in 2006.
It was there that Washington recruited Valentine out of Sexton. Valentine won 87 games during his career with the Grizzlies, graduating in 2013. After that, Valentine was a graduate assistant for Tom Izzo at Michigan State and was part of the 2015 team that reached the Final Four.
The next season he was hired by Kampe and he worked with Washington for one year on the Oakland staff. Before this season, Moser hired him at Loyola.
“It’s definitely crazy,” Valentine said on Thursday. “I’ve known him and he’s the main guy that recruited me to go to college. The fact that he’s finally here and to see him posting on Instagram about his kids … I mean, his son, Caleb, was like 2 when I first got to college. Now, Caleb is like 10 or 11. So seeing (Washington’s) growth, seeing how excited the whole family is and seeing how excited Saddi is, it’s fun for me to see from outside, too.”
From the outside, each has seen the other’s team go through fairly remarkable journeys to get to this point.
For the Ramblers, it’s been last-second wins that have catapulted this season’s Cinderella to heights few expected for the mid-major. For the Wolverines, it’s been more workmanlike, taking care of each opponent with varying styles, rolling up 99 points to beat Texas A&M before winning a slugfest over Florida State to get to the Final Four.
The Wolverines also had their own buzzer-beater as Jordan Poole’s 3-pointer gave Michigan a second-round win over Houston.
Washington and Valentine have been following it all, and at the Sweet 16, the idea of meeting in the Final Four became real.
“Ironically, it wasn’t until last week that it kind of sunk in like, if things align right we could actually play each other next weekend,” Washington said. “We’ve been following each other’s journey this postseason. Every last-second shot they hit it’s like, ‘Oh! Congratulations.’ When they hit that one against Tennessee not knowing four hours later we were gonna go through the same thing with Houston.
“It’s been awesome and like I said, I’m happy for him and it’s one of those things you couldn’t script any better.”
For friends that talk on an almost daily basis, things haven’t changed a whole lot this week.
“No, no, no,” Washington said. “There’s no radio silence going on. The last time we talked I think it was Monday, so we’ve been texting every day and I’m sure I’ll send a shout-out to him this afternoon.”
Valentine said their conversations will be light on details — no reason to give anyone an advantage — but they’ll still have fun.
And as they do, friends and family back home will be watching with pride.
“Lansing is very much in full effect there,” Washington said. “Both Drew and I are getting a tremendous amount of love and support from friends and family back home.”
Michigan vs. Loyola-Chicago
Tip-off: 6:09 p.m. Saturday, Alamodome, San Antonio
TV/radio: TBS/WWJ 950
Records: No. 3 seed Michigan 32-7; No. 11 seed Loyola Chicago 32-5
Up next: Winner advances to Monday’s national championship game against Villanova-Kansas winner.