MANHATTAN — Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber was blown away as he stared out at the thousands of fans that came to Bramlage Coliseum for the Wildcats’ Big 12 championship celebration on Monday.
The crowd, which filled one side of the arena, yelled his first name in unison when he approached midcourt with a microphone, and his smile widened as he soaked up the moment. He wasn’t expecting this. To be honest, he wasn’t sure a Monday evening pep rally was the best idea. Would anyone come?
Oh, they would. To celebrate the program’s first Big 12 championship since 1977, some lined up early.
Perhaps K-State president Kirk Schulz summed up the celebration’s significance best by describing how different the world was when the Wildcats last won a conference title. He told the crowd that Star Wars came out that year, that Starsky and Hutch was a popular TV show and that a basic Apple computer cost thousands of dollars.
“This is fun celebrating all these Big 12 championships,” added Schulz, referencing the K-State football team’s league championship in December. “I could get used to this.”
“Title Town, USA, is right here in Manhattan,” added athletic director John Currie.
The pep rally had a little bit of everything. The lights were dimmed and players and coaches were introduced to loud music with spotlights shining on them. Seniors Rodney McGruder, Martavious Irving and Jordan Henriquez gave speeches along with Weber, Schulz and Currie.
They all thanked the fans, and talked about how special the celebration was. Weber joked that he had hoped to celebrate a Big 12 championship a week earlier on senior day, but poor officiating — referring to Kansas’ overtime victory at Iowa State — got in the way. Then the whole team cut down the nets and posed for pictures.
Players seemed to enjoy climbing a ladder and snipping the nets most. Henriquez was so excited that he bypassed the ladder and used his height and long arms to cut from the floor. McGruder walked away wearing the net as a necklace.
It was quite the scene. And to think, when K-State walked away from a 76-70 loss at Oklahoma State on Saturday, everyone’s emotions were in the dumps. They had lost the chance to win the Big 12 outright. Then Baylor beat Kansas, and the Wildcats and Jayhawks were co-champions.
“I was upset we lost at Oklahoma State, but things happen for a reason,” Gipson said. “They lost to Baylor and I was happy after that. It was a total different mood swing, and the night ended well.”
The Wildcats learned they won the conference championship at different times and in different ways. Some watched the game. Some avoided it. Weber walked his dog.
“I never felt like that in my life,” Shane Southwell said. “I really was sick to my stomach … I didn’t want to talk to my mom or my girlfriend. I just wanted to be by myself. When I was watching the game and Coach (Bill) Self took his starting five out then I got happy again. We all started calling each other as a team and we were proud of the moment. We deserved it. We worked really hard.”
Weber was glad the team got honored.
“It’s a good moment for them,” Weber said. “We gave them a dream, kind of a vision when they got here, and it came true. I told them, ‘You are the first team in 36 years that gets to cut down the nets and hold up a championship trophy and you’ve got to be proud of that.’ But once that moment is done we’ve got to move forward and see if we want more.”