Citizens of Jayhawk Nation, Wildcat Nation and Shocker Nation, plus those loyal to the Stanford Tree, began congregating Thursday in St. Louis.
They are among many of the fans of eight college basketball teams in town for two days of NCAA tournament regional games.
Two of the teams — Kansas and Kentucky — are among college basketball’s jumbo jets. Their storied programs have fans far from Lawrence, Kan., and Lexington, Ky. Joining the party in St. Louis are fans of rising star Wichita State, whose Shockers are undefeated this season.
Downtown began filling up Thursday with hoops fans. Boosting the presence of out-of-towners is the fact that many of the participating schools are a few hours’ drive from St. Louis. Farthest away are the Palo Alto, Calif., home of Stanford and its unofficial Tree mascot, and Albuquerque, N.M., home of the New Mexico Lobos.
A few dozen fans watched the Lobos practice Thursday afternoon at Scottrade Center, where tournament games will be played today and Sunday.
Less than a half hour later, about a thousand people showed up to observe the Jayhawks run through drills. Among the KU fans were Phillip Brown and his son, Andrew Brown, who drove to St. Louis on Thursday from Elm, Mo., southeast of Kansas City.
The elder Brown has been a Jayhawks fan since 1983, when he listened to radio broadcasts of KU games while working at a grocery warehouse in Kansas City, Kan. Many workers were University of Missouri fans, but Brown said he developed an allegiance to KU because he liked the Jayhawks’ broadcasters.
Brown, his son — an Air Force pilot stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. — and his daughter-in-law Deidre expect to spend $3,000 this weekend. The sum includes $1,100 for three nights at the Ritz-Carlton, in Clayton. The Browns agreed the Ritz is pricey but said it was the closest hotel to Scottrade with rooms available. Watching basketball and going to dinner will be their major activities.
“We’re going to eat well,” the elder Brown said. “We’ll eat at a nice place, where you can get a nice steak.”
The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission estimates that NCAA visitors will spend $6 million on hotels, meals, cabs and shopping. The total includes the money area residents will spend on the games and related activities.
About 7,000 Wichita State fans traveled to St. Louis early this month to watch the Shockers win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament at Scottrade. A university spokesman said even more Shockers fans are back now.
Bill Braun, a retired physician, drove seven hours Thursday from Wichita, Kan., with his wife, Susie, to follow their team. The Shockers’ base of operations is the Westin Hotel downtown but Braun, a Washington University School of Medicine graduate, said he and his wife are saving a few dollars by staying at a Hampton Inn.
Aside from going to games, the Brauns planned to have dinner Thursday night with the best man at their 1967 wedding. Another night, they might splurge on dinner.
“We’ll eat on the Hill on Saturday night,” Braun said.