Kansas’ college basketball scene has been a hot ticket over the past few years. Between the storied Jayhawks, the recent success of the Shockers and the competitiveness of the Wildcats, it would be hard to go wrong in choosing a team.
This season, the Wichita State Shockers are the last team standing, representing the state in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. They will take on Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish today at 6:15 p.m. on CBS (ch. 7) in the Sweet 16.
The Currys are huge Shockers fans. Heath and Heather both graduated from the university and have raised three kids as Wichita fans. They take their twin son and daughter, Ryker and Braxton, 11, and son Cade, 3, to as many games as they can.
“It’s a family affair,” Heath said. “Heather likes going, my daughter kind of pays attention. She likes Ron Baker. I’ve asked her if it’s his basketball skills or his looks — she says both.”
Ryker helps keep his dad grounded during games.
“He keeps me calm,” Heath said. “He’s the more positive person and thinks they will win every game.”
The family has been to big games over the years. During the 2012-13 season, when the team went to the Final Four, they attended the Jan. 19 regular season game at Wichita, where the Shockers beat 12th-ranked Creighton 67-64. Last season, they went to the MVC championship game in St. Louis and watched the Shockers beat Indiana State, which propelled them into the NCAA Tournament with a perfect 34-0 record.
They even traveled to Sioux Falls, S.D., this season — 460 miles away — to see the Shockers beat Memphis in November.
The family is serious about its college basketball. All that dedication led up to Sunday’s 78-65 win over KU in the NCAA Tournament. It’s a game that Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall has been trying to schedule in the regular season for years.
“It was pretty high,” Heath said. “I’d say it would be right up there with beating Ohio State to make it to the Final Four a couple years ago.”
Ryker’s entire wardrobe consists of Shockers attire, according to his father. Ryker’s teacher happens to be a KU fan. When he went to school on Monday, his teacher asked him what he did this weekend. Ryker said he watched Wichita beat KU.
Heath joked that it wasn’t Ryker’s best day at school.
If the Shockers can beat Notre Dame tonight and Kentucky beats West Virginia, the two teams will meet in a rematch of what was, according to numerous rankings, the best game of last season’s NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats beat Wichita State 78-76 in the second round. The loss ended Wichita State’s perfect season.
“That would be huge,” Heath said. “To get to the Final Four and have the chance to take their perfect record away from them, like they did to us last season, would be huge.”
Heath enjoys being a Wichita fan because coach Marshall builds the team to last.
“The thing that makes it easy, at least I think, is that the kids are there for four years,” Heath said. “Ron Baker is a Kansas kid. You grow with them. Marshall doesn’t go out and get the one-and-dones. You get to see the team grow. When you think of a team, Wichita State is a team because they all play together and know their roles. There isn’t one guy who does all the scoring, it’s a different guy every game.”
Heath has a point. In the Shockers’ first round 81-76 win over Indiana, Fred Van Vleet had a career game. He scored 27 points and carried the team on his back, making 9-10 free throws down the stretch.
In Sunday’s 78-65 win over KU, the team’s five starters all finished in double-digits. The majority of KU’s scoring came from the trio of Perry Ellis, Frank Mason and Devonte Graham, who combined for 50 points.
Heath said he found tickets online for the KU-WSU showdown, which was just a four-hour drive away, in Omaha, Neb. But, Heather talked some sense into him by reminding him that they have three kids. If the team’s season continues to the championship game, it may not be possible to talk him out of buying tickets for the family.
“That would be my dream,” Heath said. “We looked into Atlanta a couple of years ago and were trying to figure out if we could drive there, but it just wouldn’t work. But, if they made it, I’d have to go [Indianapolis].”
It would have been a dream scenario if the Shockers shocked the world last season and made it to the championship game with a perfect record.
“Last year it was Dallas, so I was really hoping that they would have made it,” Heath said. “Dallas wouldn’t be a bad drive at all.”
Since Wichita is the last domino of Kansas basketball left this season, it should be safe to say they won some new fans in the state. There’s always next year for the retooling Jayhawks, while K-State might take a step back after losing three of their top players.
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