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Shockers appear serious, focused as they arrive in St. Louis

Wichita State players Cleanthony Early, center, and Darius Carter step off the bus Wednesday as they arrive at the Westin Hotel in St. Louis for the NCAA Tournament. (March 19, 2014)
Wichita State players Cleanthony Early, center, and Darius Carter step off the bus Wednesday as they arrive at the Westin Hotel in St. Louis for the NCAA Tournament. (March 19, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

The Shockers are in St. Louis.

The team arrived at the Westin St. Louis just before 7 p.m. Wednesday, packed into a bus with coach Gregg Marshall and his family that was led by a police escort through the streets of downtown St. Louis.

They were greeted by a dozen camera-toting members of the Wichita media, four hard-core fans from back home and about 50 face-painted, sign-toting school-aged athletes and their parents from St. Louis who fulfilled a St. Louis Sports Commission request to greet various teams arriving on Wednesday for the tournament.

The players disembarked, many wearing oversized headphones, and began digging through piles of duffel bags, looking for their own. They were serious and kept their heads down, barely acknowledging their welcoming committee. They moved quickly into the hotel, the same one they stayed in during the Missouri Valley Tournament less than two weeks ago.

Among the fans waiting were Curtis and Michelle Kyle of Wichita and their children, 14-year-old Nicholas and 10-year-old Anna. The family followed the Shockers through last year’s NCAA Tournament run and decided to devote their spring break to this year’s tournament.

They arrived early, and because Nicholas tracks the team’s activities via players’ social media accounts, they knew the team was about to arrive at the hotel. They decided to greet the Shockers – and appeared to be the only Wichita fans who did so.

“It’s been a long journey for this team, and they should know how much we all appreciate what they’ve done,” Michelle Kyle said.

The team left Wichita on Wednesday afternoon after boarding a bus at Koch Arena, bound for the airport. They flew via private jet and arrived in St. Louis just after 6 p.m. The team bus was followed by a second bus filled with Wichita State bigwigs, including WSU Foundation president Elizabeth King and team “character coach” Steve Dickie. WSU president John Bardo and his wife, Deborah, arrived by car just as the team arrived, having traveled from visiting family in Ohio.

On Thursday, the Shockers’ practice at the Scottrade Center will be open to the public from 4:25 to 5:05 p.m. Their first game is Friday at 6:10 p.m.

Fans in St. Louis will gather for pep rallies two hours before Wichita State games this weekend at the DoubleTree at Union Station, 1820 Market St. Shocker fans also will meet up throughout the weekend at Joe Buck’s, the same barbecue restaurant in downtown St. Louis where they gathered during the Missouri Valley Tournament. It’s at 1000 Clark Ave.

The Warren Old Town in Wichita announced on Wednesday that it would use one of its theaters to show NCAA basketball games on Friday. WSU, University of Kansas and Kansas State University games will be shown in the large Showcase Auditorium, and admission will be free. Doors will open at 2:30 p.m. Friday. KU plays at 3:10 p.m., and Kansas State plays at 8:40 p.m.

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