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Shocker fans celebrate team at Koch Arena

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, April 1, 2011, at 7:50 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, June 27, 2013, at 11:12 a.m.

Koch Arena was rocking Friday a good half hour before the Wichita State basketball team carried the National Invitation Tournament trophy into the arena.

The crowd was on its feet as the team trotted onto the court less than 24 hours after defeating Alabama 66-57 at Madison Square Garden in New York to claim the title.

During a raucous welcome-home celebration, members of the team took some time to thank their fans.

WSU senior Graham Hatch, who was named the NIT’s Most Outstanding Player, was one of those who addressed the crowd.

“You guys made memories for me that will last a lifetime,” he said. “We couldn’t have done this without you guys. . . . It’s been a great ride.”

The east half of the 10,000-seat arena was full when Coach Gregg Marshall took the microphone and reminded the fans of the work his players have put into the program over the past 5½ months.

“You would not believe the energy and time and effort these guys put forth,” Marshall said. “Is there anything mid-major about these players? You think Alabama would like to have some of these guys?”

The championship in a national tournament was a first for the Shocker basketball program, which won 29 games this season, the most in school history.

Among those attending the rally was 7-year-old Wyatt Pankratz of Wichita, who wore a yellow and black Shocker wig and carried a felt-tipped pen and a toy basketball in hopes of getting an autograph.

His father, Jerramy Pankratz, said he’s been coming to Shockers games since the mid-1980s.

“This has been as fun a season as I think I can ever remember,” he said. “Then to top that off, to win the NIT? That’s pretty fun.”

Also attending were Tonya and Jerry Roberts, who drove up from Haysville.

They said they attended the NIT game when WSU defeated Nebraska, but had to watch the rest of the tournament on television.

Jerry Roberts said he was pleasantly surprised to see WSU bring home the trophy. Tonya Roberts, who said she played on the WSU women’s team in the 1970s, said she was confident from the beginning that the team would do well in the NIT.

“I’ve had good vibes about it ever since I heard we were going,” she said.

Among those greeting the team was Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, who said WSU’s run through the tournament gave the city national exposure.

“I don’t think we can express how proud we were last night watching the victory,” he said. “Last night meant a lot to the city of Wichita.”

WSU athletic director Eric Sexton praised the fans and the team.

“These young men put their hearts and souls into this season,” he said. “They worked tirelessly both in the classroom and on the court.”

He then turned his attention to the fans.

“You are our sixth man, our seventh man, our eighth man, our ninth man and our 10th man,” he said. “You supported us in every way this year.”

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com.

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