NCAA Tournament practices began at the Ford Center yesterday in Oklahoma City, and the eight teams that took the court in front of media and fans will soon be playing for real.
The Kansas State basketball team hasn’t been in this environment since 2008, when it went to Omaha and upset USC in the first round, but players and coaches say they feel right at home heading into today’s game with North Texas.
Jamar Samuels has kept himself loose by telling curious onlookers in Oklahoma City that he and his K-State teammates are in town for a water polo tournament.
“It feels good to just ride around in a bus with a police escort,” Samuels said. “Everybody is looking in the bus trying to see who you are. Then you get off the bus and people are still trying to find out who you are.
“Everybody on the team wears a hood so nobody can really see who we are. We don’t have Kansas State warm ups or anything. We have Jordan warm ups. When people come up and ask what school you go to. We tell them K-State. We don’t even tell them we’re on the basketball team. We tell them water polo. They go for it, though. They think we’re a water polo team.”
Kelly stays relaxed in other ways.
“I always just try to relax,” Curtis Kelly said. “We do things like play video games and joke around with each other, try to relax our minds.”
For all other concerns, he goes to Jacob Pullen.
“I’ve been here before and I’ve been on a good team before,” Kelly said. “But I haven’t been on a team like this. This is a new team for me, and Jake has been here for the longest. He’s our leader. So I just let him take the lead and follow him and everything else takes its place.”
Luis Colon said it was somewhat difficult to stay relaxed on the bus ride down from Manhattan, because he was so excited to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Funny to think K-State flew down for a regular-season game at Oklahoma but drove down for the NCAA Tournament, huh? Anyway, Colon is starting to calm down.
“We’re blessed to be in this position right now,” Colon said. “I didn’t play much two years ago, but I did play in both games. At least I got the experience. It was exciting when you first get to the tournament and you’ve got all these police officers letting you through behind the bus. You see all the people, all the fans and your name on TV. You realize you’re playing for a national championship.”
How does that make him respond?
“It makes you want to go harder,” Colon said. “It makes you want to be tough. You’re fighting for a championship.”
Between practices, much was made of President Obama’s bracket predictions, in which he picked K-State to make the Final Four.
Pullen had a humorous thought on the topic: “I voted for him so he had to vote for us.”
K-State coach Frank Martin said: “It’s flattering … we’ve got the President of the United States speaking about our school and team and me. It’s very complimentary. I hope he’s a prophet. I hope his predictions work out.”
Last year, Obama accurately predicted North Carolina to win it all.
But the bracket he filled out on national TV wasn’t as big as this one.