COLUMBIA - At 10:51 a.m., the black bus carrying the Missouri men’s basketball team pulled out of the south parking lot at Mizzou Arena.
The driver honked four times as about 150 fans cheered and sent off the Tigers, who are on their way to Boise, Idaho, for their NCAA Tournament first round game against Cornell on Friday. The crowd included MU students, players and coaches from MU teams and other fans.
As Andrew Prokup headed back to campus, the bus was making its way around the perimeter of the parking lot and headed north past the arena. Prokup, a MU student and roommate of guard Matt Lawrence, ran after the bus waving two yellow foam fingers in the air.
Prokup ate dinner with some players the other day, but he wanted to see them one last time before the tournament.
“The team, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them closer,” Prokup said.
At 10:45, the players came out of the arena and stepped onto a small stage. Guards Zaire Taylor and J.T. Tiller thanked the fans for their support. Then Tiller started a familiar cheer.
“Can I get a M-I-Z?” he said.
After the crowd responded, “Z-O-U,” the players got off the stage and made their way to the bus, giving fans high-fives and handshakes on the way.
Coach Mike Anderson was the last to get on the bus, giving two thumbs up to the crowd before climbing up the steps. Marty Napier, a fan who was a MU senior during Norm Stewart's first year as Missouri’s coach, said she is impressed with Anderson and feels good about the Tigers’ chances in this year's tournament.
“It’s our turn,” Napier said.
Napier and her friend, Marilyn Rose Thurdium, were among the first to arrive at the arena around 10 a.m. Thurdium said she’ll be happy if the Tigers beat Cornell, but Napier wants more.
“I’d like to see them make it to the top eight,” Napier said. “It would be a disappointment (if Missouri didn’t get there).
The Tigers play Cornell at 2 p.m. Friday at Taco Bell Arena in Boise.