Proper attire is required in order to ride on a team’s bandwagon, so it didn’t take long for local merchants to stock up on Shocker basketball T-shirts in the last couple of days.
Wichita State University’s men’s basketball team defeated Missouri State, 73-58, on Wednesday night to clinch at least a share of the Missouri Valley Conference championship, and at 5 a.m. the next day, Kevin Konda, director of the university’s bookstore, was on the road to Kansas City to pick up the official conference championship T-shirts from a licensed dealer, Gear for Sports.
He took his wife, Patty, along, and she brought a book to read while he was busy.
The shirts had been pre-booked, so they were printed as soon as the game was over. All Konda had to do was back his vehicle up to the door when he arrived about 8 a.m. In 10 minutes, he was driving back to Wichita with 2,000 black-and-yellow T-shirts.
Patty had read about two pages of her book.
The shirts started selling slowly on Thursday, but then, the bookstore isn’t pushing them yet, Konda said.
“We’re downplaying them right now,” he said. “The athletic department doesn’t want to celebrate too much until we win it outright, and we’re trying to respect that as much as we can.”
The Shockers, who play non-conference Davidson on the road today, can clinch the title outright on Wednesday with a win at Illinois State, or a loss by second-place Creighton.
Still, there’s no question the Shocker bandwagon has started rolling.
Besides a win over Missouri State, the week also saw the 23-4 Shockers finally get ranked in the Top 25 and get picked by a Sports Illustrated writer to reach the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.
Interest in Shocker basketball has increased about 10-fold this week, said WSU basketball secretary Jan Bogle.
“It’s been an insane week,” she said.
People have been calling for game tickets and tournament information, she said. National media have been calling. People have been coming in looking for posters and autographs.
It feels like 2006 again, when WSU reached the Sweet 16 under former coach Mark Turgeon.
“I would say it’s fun,” Bogle said. “It beats the alternative — nobody calling or caring about us.”
Tad Snarenberger, co-owner of the Sports Time Fan Shop and manager of the east-side store at 21st Street North and Webb Road, also has a supply of Shocker championship T-shirts and sweatshirts. Hats are due in soon.
Sales have been steady, but nothing like they will be.
“It’s going to take a while for it to sink in, and the fever to start,” said Snarenberger, a Shocker alumnus and fan, who has been attending WSU basketball games since 1964 when he was a kid. “Once Shocker fans actually realize that we’re conference champs, it will grow, and once we get past the Missouri Valley Tournament and into the regular tournament, it will grow even more.”
The Wichita Eagle also has ordered championship shirts.
Debbie Kennedy, executive director of the WSU Alumni Association, said Shocker grads already are excited
“They’ve started asking about how we’ll get arrangements to the dance,” she said, referring to the NCAA Tournament.
First, WSU will have to play the MVC conference tournament in St. Louis in two weeks, where they either must earn an automatic NCAA berth by winning it, or receive an at-large bid.
“I’ve heard from so many people who have never attended a Valley tournament calling about hotels, where the pep rally is, what happens in St. Louis. They want to have the whole Shocker experience,” Kennedy said.
WSU plays Drake on Feb. 25 during Homecoming Week, which this year has a Mardi Gras theme. Mardi Gras-style beads will be passed out at the game, she said.
The theme was chosen last fall, so it’s just coincidental, she said, that this year’s Final Four happens to be in New Orleans.