NCAA Tournament

KC’s hoops fans drawn to Sprint Center for some ball, regardless of team loyalties

Updated: 2013-03-22T03:45:10Z

By DONALD BRADLEY

The Kansas City Star

All teams should have fans like Stan Welding and Vinny Rossi.

These two guys walked through blowing snow to get to Mississippi’s NCAA Tournament practice Thursday, braving treacherous sidewalks to reach the Sprint Center.

Diehard Rebels fans, huh?

The two, parked in seats halfway up Sprint’s lower section, looked at each other.

“No,” Welding said, “not really.”

Casual fans? No, not that either.

Well, can you at least name a player? You came through the snow — surely you can name one Ole Miss player.

“No, but we think the coach is the guy down there in the sport coat,” Rossi said pointing to the floor.

The two locals love college basketball. That was reason enough for them to go to the arena on Thursday. They would have been there no matter what teams were sent to Kansas City.

Florida Gulf Coast, a No. 15 seed, is in Philadelphia, but if they were at Sprint — who doesn’t love the FGCU Eagles, baby?!

It’s March Madness. On the court, in the seats and coming through the cold.

Sure, Kansas and Kansas State practiced later, but the day started with a run of Mississippi, Villanova and Wisconsin. Not exactly home-cookin’.

But, hey, the open-practice session was free, in a world-class venue and a one-shot thing. Games start today.

On Thursday, you could sit down low. Come on, you’ve always wanted to sit down there. Like Jack at Laker games. Close enough that all the dribbling sounded like a drum line. You could hear player banter. All afternoon and into the night.

So why not go? There were certainly plenty of good seats when Ole Miss took the floor at noon.

“Can’t beat it,” said Bill Dixon, a Kansas City retiree. “I’ve never been in the place. I don’t know much about these teams, but it’s college basketball and I love college basketball.”

Art Blackman and his son, Worth, took advantage. They live in Shawnee. Worth, a high school freshman, is on spring break and the two took in the early practices as a father-son outing.

So, can either of them name an Ole Miss player?

Art smiled and shook his head.

“Marshall Henderson,” Worth said.

His dad gave him a “really?” look. Worth shrugged.

“I see him on ‘SportsCenter,’ ” he said.

The draw for Ric and Cheryl Hulsey of Olathe?

“Well, the price was good,” Cheryl said, a $5 tub of popcorn in her lap. “And this was just a good way to get out of the house.”

“And it’s my first time here,” Ric added.

Not Cheryl’s.

“Sesame Street Live,” she said.

Welding, who lives in Blue Springs, and Rossi, of Overland Park, work downtown and went to Sprint on their lunch break. Welding is an Iowa Hawkeyes fan (sorry, didn’t make it) and Rossi cheers for Syracuse, which played Thursday in San Jose.

Seeming a bit bothered that they knew so little about the team they were watching, Welding asked: “Didn’t Mississippi win the SEC tournament?”

Rossi shook his head. “I have no idea.”

(Sorry, Mizzou fans, but yes they did.)

To reach Donald Bradley, call 816-234-4182 or email dbradley@kcstar.com

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