LOS ANGELES — It’s the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles, and the possibilities are endless.
Oh, and the basketball should be pretty exciting, too.
With recent impromptu visits from New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow and Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, Wichita State is earning more attention than just from the national pundits who are jumping to cover one of the NCAA Tournament’s more unlikely stories.
Who could blame the Shockers if they half-expected Lakers star Kobe Bryant to greet their airplane when it arrived Tuesday night at LAX, or if they counted on Tom Cruise to be patronizing the same restaurant Wednesday night? Who knows which star they’ll encounter next?
"It’s just been a special experience," WSU freshman guard Fred VanVleet right now. "It’s a special feeling from Tebow to the head coach of the Jags. It’s a special time right now for the Shockers."
It’s almost serendipitous that Tebow happened to be refueling his plane in Wichita when the Shockers arrived to Mid-Continent Airport on Sunday following their upset over top-ranked Gonzaga, and that Bradley was doing the same when WSU was departing Tuesday for Los Angeles.
Such twists of fate are coinciding with the Shockers’ best tournament run in seven years and their most impressive victory in decades. Or maybe it’s not a coincidence at all.
"I was mostly surprised," Shocker senior Demetric Williams said. "But like they say, when you have a lot of success in your life, a lot of high-profile people tend to come around a lot. It’s a credit to all the people in this locker room the success we’ve been having, and just being blessed."
The Shockers recognize that winning is the primary reason for the increased attention. Tebow wouldn’t have stepped off his place to greet a heartbroken Shocker team.
Bradley wouldn’t have sought out players on campus, which is where they would have been if they had lost to Gonzaga three nights before. National radio host Jim Rome wouldn’t have talked to Ron Baker about what it was like to reach the round of 32.
Celebrity is nice, but the Shockers don’t want fame by association. They want to keep winning. That’s the feeling they’re chasing.
"We like the attention," Williams said. "But at the same time, we know our focus. The coaches do a great job and the players do a great job of knowing our ultimate goal and our focus to win games and actually get to that national championship game.
"All the (attention), we like it. We enjoy it, we’re humble about it. But at the same time, our focus is to win the game."
Still, it’s Hollywood. There has to be somebody the Shockers want to see. For VanVleet, it’s Bryant, his favorite NBA player. Williams will settle on seeing anyone famous, and he’s certain he will.
Carl Hall? Well, for the guy who joked that he thought he’d gotten rid of the media following WSU’s win over Gonzaga, maybe celebrity sightings aren’t on his L.A. itinerary.
"No," Hall said. "I’m not into stuff like that."