University of Kansas

NBA stars put on camp in Wichita

Oklahoma City Thunder senior vice president Brian Byrnes pointed to a map of the Wichita area with dots to represent Thunder ticket buyers from a 20-mile radius.

"All of these pegs here are Wichita," Byrnes said. "You can't even see the word 'Wichita', there's so many pegs. Every one of those pegs represents somebody who has purchased something through our business."

Byrnes said more than 1,500 Wichitans purchased tickets last season to see the three-year-old NBA team 2 1/2 hours south.

But the Thunder's work isn't done. As one of the only NBA teams in the midwest, the team is looking to expand its fan base.

Sunday, the team held a clinic at the Lynette Woodard Center. Former University of Kansas and current Thunder players Nick Collison and Cole Aldrich took questions from some of the 175-200 kids in attendance and participated in drills.

"As I come through Kansas, like this summer, I see a lot of people who are Thunder fans, who watch us play," Collison said. "Especially from the southern part of the state. With Wichita being a two-hour drive, we get a lot of fans that come to the games."

The Thunder moved from Seattle, where they were called the Supersonics, after the 2007-08 season.

Last season, Oklahoma City went 50-32 and advanced to the Western Conference playoffs. Their success brought support from a fan base with little exposure to the professional game — the Thunder were 12th in the NBA in average fans (18,003) and seventh in capacity (98.9 percent).

"It's different," said Collison, who played four seasons with the Sonics. "Seattle had 41 years of history, so they've been through good times and bad. They've been with that organization a long time.

"Oklahoma City, it's so new, but I think people from the jump have been excited about us being here. It's been two seasons, but our fan support has been great."

Oklahoma City seems to have found the formula for attracting new fans. The Thunder have marketable players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

They feature players from the region in former Big 12 stars Aldrich, Collison and Durant — who played at Texas — and they're starting to win.

"I would think, as a fan, we'd be a team that's fun to watch," Collison said. "Kevin Durant is going to be maybe one of the best to ever play. If you can get in now and get on board, I think it's going to be a fun ride. I think the organization is set up to be good for a long time."

The Thunder appears on TV in Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas, and Aldrich said he has heard from KU fans who will continue to follow his career.

"It's exciting because they do get the games here from the Thunder on local TV here," Aldrich said. "It's going to be really exciting for the fans here."