Reporters and photographers aren’t supposed to get caught up in the moment of stories like these. Then again, stories like Wichita State in the Final Four don’t come along too often.
We asked The Eagle’s contingent at the West Regional sites to give us their most memorable moments from a memorable two weeks of Shocker basketball history.
My mother, Joyce Suellentrop, is the only person allowed to call me on deadline. She gets that privilege in case one of her cats is sick. At the end of each Shocker game, she calls and leaves me a message along the lines of “Woo-hoo. Go Shockers.”
Those kind of moments are my favorite memories from this tournament. It is fun to see Wichitans wrapped up in this team, lining up for T-shirts and tickets, clamping flags to car windows and painting their toenails black and yellow. It is a great moment for the fans and I am glad to see they are maxing out their enjoyment.
I’m happy for the fans who drove to Omaha or Terre Haute and invest heavily in the Shockers. They are getting a reward and watching them enjoy the games and the thrill is unforgettable.
It is entertaining to see my phone light up with texts from friends and family — all of whom ignore my deadline rule — after each game. “Congrats.” “Good job.” “I saw you on TV.” “Why are you wearing that shirt.” This isn’t the time to explain to them that I have nothing to do with Malcolm Armstead’s bank shots or Fred VanVleet’s shot clock-beating threes or Gregg Marshall’s dancing.
For those people, I am their connection to the Shockers and I’m happy to be a part of it, even on deadline from Los Angeles.
I never thought anything could top my experience at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Dec. 31, 1999, the last day of the 1900s. The Eagles, my favorite band — the band that I love — performed with Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne. My son, Jeff, and I were there. It was amazing to hear the music we both grew up loving being played as the calendar switched to the 2000s.
Last weekend, though, another monumental event happened at Staples Center and my son and I were there again to watch it happen. Wichita State beat Ohio State to reach the Final Four. Right before our eyes.
I remember the Eagles concert like it was yesterday. The band played "Those Shoes" and "Funky New Year," two songs I had never before heard them play live.
The Shockers rolled out some new stuff, too. It’s been 48 years since they played the Final Four tune. It has a nice ring to it.
The game between Wichita State and Ohio State in the West Regional final in Los Angeles hit especially close to home. I’m a WSU graduate, while my sister earned her degree from Ohio State. Much of my family, including my mom and stepdad — also WSU grads — moved to Columbus in 1992 and became fans of the Buckeyes.
A game between the two schools for a berth in the Final Four never seemed like a possibility. But I think my mother, a Southern California native who died in January, had some role in orchestrating a high-stakes game near her hometown between the alma maters of her two children. I teased my sister that the winner of the game would prove who was mom’s favorite. The Shockers’ 70-66 victory only confirmed what I knew to be true all along.
My favorite tournament memory so far is the night in Salt Lake City that photographer Jaime Green and I accidentally ended up hanging out with the Marshall family in their luxury hotel suite. We asked for an interview with Lynn Marshall for a profile we were assigned to do about her, and when the fan gathering at the team hotel was done, she invited us up. Our two hours in the suite was half-interview, half-giggle session with Lynn, Gregg, their kids Kellen and Maggie, and several of their best friends from Wichita. The best part was hearing the coach have his first chance to compare notes about the Pittsburgh win with the people closest to him.
I also have enjoyed meeting and getting to know that core group of die-hard Shocker fans who never miss games, never turn down a chance to wear crazy Shocker gear and warmly great their hometown paper reporters and photographers wherever they see us. They’re a great, fun group of people who deserve to be living this moment after all of their dedication over the years to the team.
There’s also the time that Jaime and I got lost looking for a pep rally and ended up running through questionable streets of downtown Los Angeles, looking like deranged "Amazing Race" contestants. We finally found the pep rally and were 15 minutes late, dripping with sweat, but we still got the story. Jaime was rewarded with a handshake from LL Cool J, who was filming a television show at the hotel that hosted the pep rally.
I was in the photographer’s workspace, a curtained area just off the court at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, the practice day before the Pitt game when a familiar face poked his head through the drapes. It was Carl Hall, and the big news of the day was that he had shaved off his beloved dreads. He looked at Associated Press photographer Rick Bowmer’s head of long dreads and said, "Man, I like your dreads! I just cut mine and I really miss them." He walked away and shook his head in disbelief of what he had done.
During the first practice in Los Angeles, the Shockers worked out in front of TV analyst Reggie Miller. One by one, they went to the sideline and shook his hand. Cleanthony Anthony returned to the drill smitten and said, "I’m not gonna wash this hand for weeks." One of his teammates responded, "You never do anyway."
I know how he feels. I photographed a pep rally at the Biltmore Millenium Hotel in Los Angeles the day of the game against La Salle. Actor and Grammy-winning rapper LL Cool J had been in the fans’ hotel filming an episode of "NCIS: Los Angeles" and sent a note to the rally encouraging the team. He wrote, "Teamwork makes the dream work."
After the rally, I accidentally walked onto the set (I mean, it looked just like a real hotel with real people I didn’t know were actually actors) and ran into Mr. Cool J. I asked him why he sent the note and he said, "To spread the love." I shook his hand — and didn’t wash it until the next morning.
Last Saturday was my fourth time shooting an Elite Eight game and long before it started, there was a sense that something was going to be different about that game. It’s possible I was more nervous than the players themselves.
Before the game, the Shockers gathered together at the end of a tunnel before running out onto the Staples Center court. Gregg Marshall and his staff followed behind them. As the lights of the court began shining upon him, I watched through a clicking camera shutter as he slowed his pace, look up to his right and then to his left, and smiled for a brief moment.
I have no idea what was going through Marshall’s mind. It seemed that, for a moment, he wasn’t a tactician or a motivator or a leader, but just someone like the rest of us from Wichita. Thankful for that moment and appreciative of the chance to step out onto that stage with the lights shining upon his team, and our city, so brightly.
I got the text in the morning as snow fell again in Salt Lake City. "We need a picture of Carl Hall for the poster. No one else just Carl Hall," my boss texted.
So off we went to the arena and absorbed the buzz that is a NCAA Tournament. The Shockers were playing No. 1 Gonzaga and I was wondering about their chances. I took the offensive side first and let my fellow photographer Jaime Green take the second half of offense. Right away I was looking for Carl to do something. Then I noticed, the Shockers are really playing these guys well.
Then I saw it. Hall swooped in for a steal. I was used the smaller guys stealing the ball. Hall looked agile making that steal and I thought that maybe I had my shot right then. But then he came down the floor, gathering speed with every step, and I knew he was coming in for a great dunk. He let out an expression of aggressiveness as he went up and slammed it. My heart was beating as I looked to see if I got the shot and was so relieved when I did. I was happy it was Carl Hall we had to get that day.