The Wichita State University men’s basketball team is collecting both victories and fans during its march through the NCAA Tournament.
The latest victory was over top-seeded Gonzaga on Saturday night in Salt Lake City, which propelled the Shockers into the Sweet 16.
The latest fan is Heisman Trophy winner and New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, who greeted the team when it returned to Wichita on Sunday afternoon.
Tebow’s jet had stopped at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport to refuel and his representative asked WSU basketball coach Gregg Marshall whether Tebow could address the team. Moments later a pink-sweatered Tebow stepped on the team’s bus.
“This you will remember for the rest of your lives,” Tebow told them. “You will never forget it, guys. These are the special times of your lives, regardless of what you do in the future.
“So, I just want to say congrats. You are an inspiration to so many people.”
Then it was off to Koch Arena for the Shockers, where they were greeted with a standing ovation from thousands of cheering fans.
People started filing into the arena well before 3 p.m. It was nearly half filled by 3:30. Among the gathering crowd was Kelli Barron, her daughter, Kourtney, and son, Konner.
“I want to tell them good game,” Konner said.
Kelli Barron said of Saturday night’s game, which saw the Shockers rally from a second-half deficit, “They fought through and didn’t let anything stop them.”
“They had an amazing game,” Kourtney said.
But before the men’s basketball team arrived, the crowd first welcomed the women’s basketball team onto the court amid cheers and a jubilant WuShock.
The women’s basketball team won its first conference title and made the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. The Shockers lost 71-45 to Texas A&M in the tournament’s opening round on Saturday.
“We got a taste of it,” Coach Jody Adams said. “It is in our blood, and now it is in our DNA.”
At 10 minutes to 4 p.m., the men’s basketball team walked — more accurately, meandered — onto the Koch Arena basketball court and worked their way around the arena, touching outstretched fingers and hands in the crowd.
Clayton Riehn and Tim Moyer, both WSU graduates, were among the chanting and cheering celebrants.
“Just to celebrate the accomplishment is so unexpected this year,” Riehn said.
The crowd started chanting, “Sweet 16! Sweet 16!” as Marshall grabbed a microphone.
“What is this you speak of? This Sweet 16?” he joked with the crowd.
As the crowd responded, he shouted, “Are you satisfied?”
Marshall: “What comes after the Sweet 16?”
Crowd: “Elite Eight!”
Marshall: “And then we go to?”
Crowd: “Final Four! Final Four!”
The Shockers will play La Salle on Thursday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The winner advances to the Elite Eight.
Marshall told the crowd it has been a tough, exciting year for the team.
“The stars are aligned for us,” Marshall said. “It has been a crazy year, but they have persevered through unbelievable adversity, injuries, crazy calls and now we are in the Sweet 16.
“It is so much fun to represent you guys, this university and community. Wichita State and the Shockers are on the map. We are worldwide!”