When WuShock ran with open arms Sunday afternoon onto the basketball court at Wichita State University’s Koch Arena, there was already love in the house.
Nearly 5,000 people packed into the arena to welcome home the Shocker men’s basketball team.
The team ran nearly an hour late, so the crowd made do.
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They cheered some more when WuShock dribbled a basketball, took a Tim Tebow stance and went wild when he made a basket.
And then, a few minutes before 2 p.m., the crowd sprang to its feet and cheered even louder – with a welcoming roar – when the team players finally sauntered through.
“WE LOVE YOU SHOCKS!”
The crowd remained on their feet when WSU men’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall took the microphone and began to speak.
“I can tell you that we have been on some incredible journey and we have felt you guys right here, as the wind in our sails, and we thank you Shocker Nation,” Marshall told the crowd. “There was a lot of speculation going into this year as to what kind of season we would have – all the new players, all the new faces. But I can assure you as the season went on – and we went through the ups and downs you go through in a basketball season, these guys figured out how to win.”
The crowd grew quiet.
Consider the team, Marshall said.
This was a team that lost 75 percent of its scoring with the five seniors last year and at the beginning of the year had nine new faces.
There were injuries along the way, he said.
“Some of those injuries we are still dealing with – but the bottom line is that they were so tenacious, so hardworking, they continued to persevere and fight through major adversity and for that, these guys are true champions.”
The crowd broke into applause and cheered again.
“They’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” said Pat Martinez who was one of those cheering in the crowd. “They are a great team. It is just great to see everybody here.”
Marshall said hopes were raised after the Shockers made the Elite Eight, beating LaSalle and had Ohio State in sight.
“Someone mentioned to me, ‘Do you realize there are seven schools from east of the Mississippi that are left in the tournament and only one, west of the Mississippi?’ ”
Of course, there were more cheers from the audience.
“At that point, we were not only representing this program at this great university and this fine community, we were representing the state of Kansas, the western half of the United States and for that matter, we were representing Shocker Nation throughout the world,” Marshall said. “And, as large and as strong as the Shocker Nation is, we are not too proud to accept bandwagon fame – so we got more Shocker Nation fans in the whole wide world today than ever before!”
“WOO-HOO!” People in the crowd chanted.
After much urging from the crowd and Marshall, the microphone was handed to Cleanthony Early.
“We appreciate each and every single one of you for coming out and showing your love,” Early said and handed the mike back to Marshall.
“These guys, when they are practicing, stressing, the anxiety is off the charts,” Marshall said. “I’m not sure how much any of these young men have slept. I know for the past three nights, they haven’t got much rest. They are a little tired now But when they are out there, and playing their hearts out, we are doing it not for ourselves but doing it for the greatest fan base in the country.”
Marshall encouraged Shocker fans to continue to play angry.
“Without hurting anyone else, without being too overly aggressive, do it with anger. If you are a school teacher teaching, if you are an accountant, count angry We are doing it again next year, the whole thing.”
The players and Marshall then signed autographs for people who rushed onto the court.
In the stands, Andrew Purcell held his 61/2-month old niece, Autumn, who was sporting a tiny yellow T-shirt.
“It is important to show support for WSU,” Purcell said, acknowledging his niece’s outfit. “Nobody really had heard of Wichita until this tournament. I just wanted to come today. I have friends that go to WSU. I did want to see them win the championship. I was really impressed with the team. They totally played their hearts out. And last night when the referees made a few calls that were maybe a little questionable, we started yelling, Autumn woke up. I told my mom, she will either hate sports or get used to it.”
In the final moments of the rally, Autumn was willing to bounce on her uncle’s knee as the Shockers band broke into the now-famed “You Don’t Want To Go to War With The Shockers!”