ST. LOUIS — During a typical year, Debbie Kennedy and her crew at the Wichita State University Alumni Association arrange for two buses to help transport the Shockers most devoted fans to the Missouri Valley Tournament in St. Louis.
This year, theyre filling seven.
But, to state the obvious, this is not a typical year for the Wichita State mens basketball team.
Starting today, fans willing to travel and those numbers have swelled since last years Final Four run and this seasons undefeated season will begin descending on downtown St. Louis for the conference tournament, which lasts through Sunday at the Scottrade Center. The Shockers will open play at 12:08 p.m. on Friday, and should they keep winning would play at 1:38 p.m. on Saturday and 1:05 p.m. Sunday.
And many of them are calling Kennedy whose job as executive director of the alumni association includes organizing fan travel and activities during tournament season to find out where to go and what to do when they arrive.
My biggest fear is Im going to disappoint them, and I dont want to disappoint them, she said. Weve got to be fan central here. Everybody that calls is significant. Their experience is significant.
Adding to the pressure: the spike in the number of people she could potentially disappoint, she said.
Those seven busloads of fans dont include the hundreds traveling to St. Louis by private car, and the more than 3,000 tournament tickets sold by the WSU ticket office doesnt count the people who bought them from other sources.
Kennedy and her staff have filled the last few weeks securing signage, arranging travel, organizing hangout spots and attending to fans specific needs: One asked her to try to arrange a Sunday morning church service for fans in St. Louis.
She has arranged an official hangout: Joe Bucks, a barbecue restaurant at 1000 Clark Ave. It is about four blocks from the arena and is reserving its entire basement area for Shockers fans throughout the tournament. The restaurant will have a $12.95 barbecue buffet available each day just for those fans.
You have to wait so long to get into a restaurant anywhere near Scottrade, Kennedy said. And we know that we are going to have a lot of more Shockers down there. We kind of wanted a hangout place.
Fans also can attend pep rallies two hours before each game at the Westin St. Louis, 811 Spruce St. Thats the official team hotel, which also will be filled with Shocker fans.
Kennedy quickly rattled off a list of four other hotels that will be full of Shockers, too, adding that hotel rooms in St. Louis are now nearly impossible to find.
Coach Gregg Marshall will attend each pep rally to address fans, Kennedy said, and Shockers play-by-play announcer Mike Kennedy who is Debs husband and radio partner Dave Dahl will offer thoughts on the Shockers opponents and what its going to take to beat them.
Its easy to stay entertained at the Missouri Valley Tournament, say longtime attendees. The downtown area in St. Louis has several nice non-basketball distractions, too.
Some fans like to play a little blackjack at nearby casinos, including the luxurious Lumiere Place Casino thats just a mile and a half from Scottrade.
The St. Louis Gateway Arch is just less than two miles from the arena, and it offers tours 630 feet to the top from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
The famous Busch Stadium where the Cardinals play is just a half mile from the arena and offers inexpensive tours year round, even when its not baseball season.
St. Louis also is famous for its food, and about five miles west of downtown is a neighborhood called The Hill thats overflowing with Italian restaurants. The Kennedys like to schedule a visit to The Hill into their annual Missouri Valley trek.
Zias On The Hill, Deb Kennedy said. We always have to go there.
Longtime tournament-goers like to check out all the St. Louis sites, said Dick Dameron, a frequent attendee who has been known to distract himself between games with an occasional hand of blackjack at a downtown casino.
But the majority of the weekend, he said, can easily be filled with the topic of the hour: basketball. Dameron said he likes to attend as many tournament games as he can, even ones that the Shockers arent a part of.
Ill go to the other games, he said. I hate to go there and not know anything about the games.