COLUMBIA — Despite heavy rain, Missouri basketball fans packed the Clinton Room at Mizzou Arena on Tuesday afternoon to send the Tigers on their way to Glendale, Ariz., where they will play Memphis on Thursday in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16.
There were few MU students at the event because of spring break, but there were still close to 150 devoted Tiger fans, including vanloads of preschoolers, at the sendoff — far more than came to wish the team well before it left last week for Boise, Idaho, for the first round of the tournament.
vs. Memphis (33-3)
WHEN: About 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
TV: KRCG/Channel 13
Despite not knowing ahead of time that the event had been moved inside, not a single fan said they thought twice about coming to see off their heroes.
"I would do anything for the Missouri Tigers and to see the basketball team," said Josh Capron, a student at Rock Bridge High School. "I started coming to games with my grandpa when I was 10 years old. The first year I was a fan, they went to the Elite Eight. It’s just so exciting to see them win again.”
Manuale Watkins, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Jefferson Junior High School, was not hesitant either.
"No matter what the conditions are, I’m going to come out and see them 'cause this is big," Watkins said. "They don’t get to go to the Sweet 16 that often, so when they do, you want to see the experience.
"I love basketball, and I hope to be a Tiger one day. I just love their style of play — they run fast, it's not a slow game, it's never boring watching them. Some college teams just go down, set up offense, pass … but the Tigers just go, score and get back on defense. I like that. It keeps the game interesting."
Columbia resident Vicki Coy said it's easy to support the team.
"All season, coach (Mike) Anderson has said that he hopes fans are enthusiastic," Coy said. "He has no idea the joy and entertainment he has brought us. It has been such a good experience in so many aspects. They (the Tigers) never give up, they are so polite and kind. It's been a real pleasure."
Nancy Smith, a 71-year-old retired nurse, said the team means a lot to the community, young and old.
“Look at those little boys over there," Smith said, gesturing to a group of children. "See how much fun they are having? I bet we are having more. We are so proud of the conduct of the coaches and players. That’s why they are so good with the kids.”
Tigers freshman center Steve Moore came out early to play with the children who had come to see him off. He said he spends time with the community’s children whenever he can.
“We like to get out when we have time and do community service,” Moore said. “At the park down the street, we ran a basketball clinic. That’s just the way we give our appreciation back and give everybody our thanks for all the support. These kids watch the game on TV, and I bet it feels pretty good for them to come out here and be in Mizzou Arena and meet us and everything.”
Moore said it can be a lot of fun to be a role model for so many children.
“Actually, it's pretty cool, especially for a person like me who doesn’t really get to see the floor that much. It feels good," Moore said. "Some of the kids actually knew my name and everything, so it actually feels really good having all these little kids around.”