LOS ANGELES — ESPN.com columnist Rick Reilly played instigator Wednesday's West Regional news conferences. He asked several questions to Ohio State players Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas about whether Craft's in-your-face defense was "annoying," then he queried La Salle players on their knowledge of Wichita.
Ramon Galloway, Tyrone Garland or Tyreek Duren didn’t know in which state Wichita is located. Their only recollection of anything to do with the city was a possible sign at an airport, which was later determined might have been the display for a flight to Kansas City, not Wichita.
"(Teammate) Steve Zack said we passed the Wichita (gate) when we were going to the airport, though," Duren said. "Something like that. He pointed it out and said, 'That's who we play.' "
Wichita State's players didn't view La Salle's lack of knowledge as a show of disrespect. With three native Kansans on the roster, many of the Shockers could probably relate.
"I didn't know where Wichita was either before I went there," said Cleanthony Early, a junior-college transfer from New York. "I just found out after. I had to do my research. I knew where it was after a while, but when I first heard of it, I couldn't even pronounce it correctly."
Seven years later — The 2006 Shockers are following the 2013 Shockers, while noting the 2013 team is following their lead.
Seventh-seeded Wichita State advanced to the 2006 Sweet 16, routing a Big East team (Seton Hall) by 20 points before knocking off a lofty seed (No. 2 Tennessee), one viewed suspiciously by some for lack of credentials. Then it faced a No. 11 seed (George Mason) in the regional semifinal.
“A friend of mine texted me after beating Pittsburgh and the first thing he said was that it seems eerily similar to 2006,” former Shocker guard Matt Braeuer said. “It kind of feels the same.”
In the past week, ninth-seeded Wichita State handled Pitt (a Big East team) by 18 points, leading to a win over top-seeded and top-ranked Gonzaga. Up next is 13th-seeded La Salle.
“We beat Tennessee and then you get a chance against another team that doesn’t have a high seed,” former center Shocker Paul Miller said. “Great opportunity.”
The not-so-old guys are enjoying this group’s success from points all over the globe.
“It brings back a lot of memories, especially seeing those guys celebrate,” former forward Ryan Martin said. “All of us former players are cheering like heck for them. We’re like brothers.”
Miller, playing professionally in France, watched both games. Braeuer, video coordinator at Maryland for 2006 coach Mark Turgeon, is watching while his team advances in the NIT. Martin, a forward on the 2006 team, is an assistant coach at Northern Colorado.
“I was up late watching the Gonzaga game and that’s one of the best Shockers games I’ve watched in a long time,” Miller said. “Highly competitive game, played at a high level. It seemed like (WSU) made all the big plays.”
The 2006 Shockers won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and brought WSU back to the NCAAs for the first time since 1988. The current Shockers are making consecutive NCAA appearances. Last season, they lost their opener. A year later, they are the toast of Wichita and one of 16 schools still playing on the biggest stage.
“I would say they are here for a reason and they don’t have to do anything other than what they’ve done all year,” he said. “Play with confidence and leave it all on the floor.”
Viral kid — Kellen Marshall had no idea he would become a news source for the nation when he took out his iPhone and recorded Tim Tebow’s words for the Shockers on Sunday at Mid-Continent Airport.
He linked to the video from his Twitter account and it took off.
Within hours, the video led websites such as NFL.com, USA Today and local media sites, including Kansas.com. Some credited Marshall, son of WSU coach Gregg Marshall, and some didn’t.
“It was on ESPN ‘SportsNation,’ and then my name got up there,” he said. “That was pretty cool.”
Tebow, with his plane refueling in Wichita, asked to speak to the team when they returned from Salt Lake City. He spoke for a few minutes on the team bus.
“I saw Tim Tebow, and he’s huge, world-wide known,” Marshall said. “I took a picture, and then he kept talking so I thought I might as well film some of this. It got so big so fast and that’s what crazy about things like Twitter and how fast things can move.”
Marshall, 16, is a loyal South Carolina Gamecocks football fan, which makes his relationship with Tebow complicated.
“He would always kill South Carolina,” Marshall said. “When he got to the NFL, I liked him because he could always find a way to win.”
Stay in touch — A run to the Sweet 16 brings out all kinds of fans.
For WSU junior Nick Wiggins, it feels as if all of Canada is behind him. He is one of two Canadians (with junior Chadrack Lufile) on the roster. Several prominent Canadian athletes, including Tristan Thompson of the Cavaliers and European pro Devoe Joseph, congratulated or contacted Wiggins.
“A lot of people back home are supporting me, and really happy that was able to make it to this point,” he said. “Not a lot of Canadian basketball players have ever really done that before. A couple pro athletes have contacted me and told me congratulations and keep pushing.”
Sophomore Jake White found around 40 texts and 40 Facebook messages waiting for him after the Shockers beat Gonzaga.
“A lot of old high school buddies have been hitting me up,” he said. “Old friends, saying, congrats and everything.”
Sitting in Lob City — The Shockers took over the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room for Wednesday’s media session and public practice.
Lufile sat in front of Chris Paul’s corner locker and next to Chauncey Billups’. Blake Griffin’s locker is across the room.
“It’s pretty exciting, it’s a blessing to be a part of this,” Wiggins said.
Changing channels — The La Salle-WSU game may be overshadowed on Thursday by the Syracuse-Indiana game, which will start about 30 minutes earlier. And Florida Gulf Coast appears to be soaking up much of the “underdog/Cinderella” attention from the national media.
La Salle’s Ramon Galloway says fans will miss out if they skip this game.
“How can you not watch Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland and Coach G (John Giannini)?” he said. “I don’t understand why people don’t really want to watch us. We’re in Division I basketball and we’re in the Sweet 16. We’re playing Wichita State, which is a great team.”
Stay and play — WSU coach Gregg Marshall took a Florida Gulf Coast question and turned into a chamber of commerce spot for his school and city.
“It’s a great entreprenuerial spirit in Wichita and we have great businesses and a lot of folks that have followed the leads of some of those pioneers in those businesses,” he said. “We’re one of the top aeronautical engineering schools, because Wichita is known as the air capital of the United States. We’ve got Koch Industries. Pizza Hut started there. Coleman camping equipment started there.”
Friendly rivals — Arizona coach Sean Miller served under Ohio State coach Thad Matta at Xavier. Matta’s aversion to travel is well known, especially to Miller.
“When we would go recruiting together at Xavier, we could be as far as eight hours away and it could be (10 p.m.) and he would give you a look like, ‘Why don’t we just get home?’ ” Miller said. “And you’d just say to yourself, ‘Why don’t we just stay in the hotel?’ ”
Head coach rules.
“It was always drive, and it was always there and back,” Miller said. “I guess if there’s one small advantage we have, we have him in a place that he’s not real familiar with, a long way from home.”
Worth noting — The Staples Center,which opened in 1999, is holding NCAA games for the first time. The arena seats 18,118.… Arizona is making its 15th trip to the Sweet 16 and Ohio State is in this round for the fourth consecutive time.… WSU’s 14 three-pointers in its win over Gonzaga are its most in NCAA play, topping 12 against Seton Hall.