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The Drury University men’s basketball team, newly crowned as Division-II national champions, arrived home to Springfield this (Tuesday) afternoon. They were greeted by a large crowd of fans who gathered at the O’Reilly Center to catch a glimpse of the champs and show their support one more time this season.
[SOUND: “We are D-U”]
One of those fans was Bob Duncan, a 1961 graduate of Drury. He says the win makes alums like him even more proud to be a part of the University.
“We’ve got national recognition now. As I went through life, throughout the world, people were impressed with what they heard about Drury. And ever more so now with the win here in the NCAA,” Duncan said.
Drury junior Brooke Hickman was one of many students who made the 24 hour bus ride to and from Atlanta to watch the Panthers win the title. Earlier in the season, she says she never imagined the team would have made it this far. As the final seconds ticked away Sunday night, she says she was shaking and jumping around in excitement.
“You can’t even describe the atmosphere in the arena. They announced that there was 7,700 people in the stands, and it looked like 7,000 of them were from Springfield, Missouri, because we just invaded that place,” Brooke Hickman.
And it was the roar of those fans that head coach Steve Hesser said he heard from inside the locker room before the championship game, as his team hit the court. Hesser has been battling a bout with pneumonia since February.
“The grit, determination that these guys showed with the help of the emotion from our fans, our students, who spent money or took 17 hour bus rides just to show these guys support, thank you,” Hesser said.
Inside the O’Reilly Center, the team talked about how important the fans were to the squad all season long. Senior Brandon Lockhart scored 14 points in the championship game against Metro State College of Denver.
“I just wanted to say thank you for these past four years, all the fans that we’ve had. We wouldn’t have done this without you guys. This is just yours as it is ours. You guys made that trip down to Atlanta so we could see you guys in the stands. You really motivated us this whole year, so I just wanted to say thank you again. Love you guys,” Lockhart said.
In the championship game, the Drury Panthers overcame a 17 point deficit against the Metro State Roadrunners to claim their first national title since 1979. Todd Parnell, president of Drury, says his time spent with the team, their families, the coaches, and the fans have been an inspiration to him and his wife, Betty.
“But more important than that, it will be an inspiration to Drury and to Springfield, who has adopted this as their team from now on,” Parnell said.
And the icing on the cake? The team is invited to play an exhibition against Duke University this coming winter at the famed Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina.
For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.