Cheers, waves, music, fist bumps and big bold signs in the lobby of the Ryan Center sent the Rhody men’s basketball team on its way to its first-round NCAA tournament game Friday, March 17, against Creighton in Sacramento, Calif.
Players and coaches beamed and exchanged hellos as they strode through a gauntlet of a few hundred fans decked out in Keaney Blue.
“Thanks for coming out today,” coach Dan Hurley told the crowd during brief remarks before he walked out the doors. “These last few weeks of the season have been amazing. How about these guys? They are champions. Friday is a big game for us, and we wouldn’t be able to do this without you. You’ve been with us through the highs and lows. You are the best fans in the country.”
“This is the greatest professional week of my life,” said Thorr Bjorn, athletic director. “It’s the culmination of so many people’s work. It’s been really special. It’s amazing what this week has done for the state of Rhode Island. It’s special that URI and PC are in the tournament. It gives the state a great sense of pride.”
Junior captain of the cheerleaders, Rachael Gaumond, was preparing to lead cheers as the team made its way through the crowd.
“It’s very special to be able to travel with the team for the tournament,” the North Attleboro, Mass. resident said. “As long as the team hears us (at the game), they will know they have support. We picked 12 elite cheerleaders to make the trip so we can do all of our high-skill stuff.”
Jeffrey Kimmerlein, a freshman member of That (Ram) Marching Band and the Pep Band, was also preparing to leave the Ryan Center for the trip to Sacramento for the game, which tips off at 4:30 p.m. (EDT) Friday and will be televised on TBS.
“The team is playing so well right now,” said the mechanical engineering and German major from South Kingstown. “I’ve been following the Rams since I was a kid. I am truly Rhode Island born and Rhode Island bred.”
Another of the 30 members of the pep band making the trip, Celeste Gurwitz, a senior communicative disorders major and resident of West Warwick, said she is excited.
“The Atlantic 10 Championship was crazy, and seeing the team win was so rewarding. When the game was over I just wanted to scream.”
Fran Brown, ’81, who directs the pep band, said she was at the airport as a member of the alumni band to play for the Sweet 16 Rams in 1988. She and her son, who is also on the band, are part of the trip.
“I am so happy for this year’s team, and I am still tearing up when I think about what they have done,” she said.
Lifelong South Kingstown resident Karen Sebastian, a basketball season ticket-holder, held her own homemade sign.
“I have been devoted to the Rams for many years. I love it. This team is the best, and I think they are going to the Elite 8,” she said.
Gary Hazard, a South Kingstown resident who has worked at URI for 32 years, said, “I think we got the best bracket, and the team is coming on at the right time. Everyone is playing at the top of his game.”
Pictured above: Hassan Martin and the URI Rams go to the 2017 NCAA Tournament.