Session Spectacle

There's no doubt that Friday's "practice" at the Final Four is little more than a show, but there's still some benefit that can be obtained from the shootarounds that are open to the public the day before the biggest Saturday night of the college basketball season.

The usual benefits of getting used to the lighting, sightlines and floor are the typical ones mentioned, but at Friday's session there was also the added hoopla of at least 25,000 people in the stands for the open event. The greatest percentage of those were there to cheer on hometown favorite Butler, but just getting used to being in front of so many people was also mentioned by many players as a big factor in the process.

Of course, each team is used to going through these sessions in the venues in which they play. Game day shootarounds are common on the road, and they also take place before each game in the NCAA tournament. Still, none of them come complete with pep bands, PA announcements, scoreboard tributes and on-court interviews. All of that added up to something of a strange environment.

"I have never played in front of that many people. It was crazy, and it gets you hyped up," WVU freshman Deniz Kilicli said. "You warm up better. They told me it was going to be twice as big as our court, and they said it seats 70,000. I don't know what I will do when I go in. Normally I don't hear the crows, but 70,000 will be pretty loud."

Kilicli, of course, came to WVU from a country where basketball is growing, but doesn't have the same interest level. He also played at small Mountain State Academy, where crowds could often be easily counted before tip-off. But even those players who have performed on the national level throughout their careers couldn't find anything comparable in their experience.

"There's not really anything to compare it to," the reserved sophomore said. "It is kind of weird shooting out there but it is something that you get used to. The raised floor is nice. It looks great."

The elevated floor is another factor that could come into play at times. The first row of courtside tables for media and press row are even with the floor, while the benches are actually almost three feet below floor level. That will give coaches and players (other than the head coach) a much different view of the game. (Head coaches are allowed to stand on the floor during the game.) Even with those differences however, the coaching staff was trying to keep everyone on an even keel and use the session as productively as possible.

"I've never practiced with a band playing before, but it fit the situation," assistant coach Erik Martin said. "Our guys had already practiced, so we just wanted to get some shots up and maybe do some dunks for the fans, but you don't want to do too much because there are coaches out there from the other three teams watching us. We were still warmed up [from the earlier practice], and we weren't doing enough out there today to worry about someone getting hurt."

Martin has personal experience to draw upon. He played in a Final Four under Huggins at Cincinnati in 1992, and so knew a bit of what to expect. Still, he noted that the hoopla has grown in the 18 years since he made his trip to the big stage.

"It went really fast for me," Martin recalled of his time in the Final Four. "I am enjoying it more now as a coach. There was a lot of media then too, but even more now. I have great memories of it. I am just happy for all of the players that they have the chance to experience this."


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