Des Moines, Iowa Kansas University basketball assistant Jerrance Howard performed a few dance moves to the beats of the Isiserettes Drill and Drum Corps as the Jayhawk coaches and players exited a luxury, black Heartland Executive bus at 5:35 p.m. Tuesday in front of the Embassy Suites hotel in downtown Des Moines.
The youths, ages 7 to 18, provided some hometown hospitality for the Jayhawks, who made the short 31⁄2-hour trip from Lawrence to the site of Thursday’s 3 p.m. NCAA South Regional opener against Austin Peay in Wells Fargo Arena.
“They are very good and very loud as well. I know our players enjoyed that a lot,” KU coach Bill Self said of the drum-and-dance performance.
“It was fine,” he added of the drive on a rainy day. “It was a three-hour bus ride. We watched a good movie, watched ‘Creed,’ so everybody got fired up.”
Self said the Jayhawks (30-4), who will hold a shootaround that is open to the public from 2:15 p.m. to 2:55 today at Wells Fargo Arena, have had two good practices since defeating West Virginia, 81-71, in the Big 12 tournament title game on Saturday in KC’s Sprint Center.
“I think we are in a good place right now. We obviously had a good weekend last weekend (in beating West Virginia, Baylor and Kansas State),” Self said. “We’ve had a couple pretty spirited workouts. If anything, I think our guys are rested. We know what to expect a little bit. We don’t know if somebody will try to throw something different at us (in NCAAs). We’ve been preparing like we always have. I think the guys are really excited.”
Self said junior guard Frank Mason III, who suffered a bruised left foot in the semifinal vs. Baylor, responded well to treatment and should be ready to go against Austin Peay.
“I think he’s fine,” Self said. “He got his foot stepped on (by Taurean Prince) and got a bruise. Fortunately the X-rays were negative. We did X-rays before the game Saturday (vs. West Virginia) because we were going to hold him out if we needed to. He’s kind of like Jim Brown (NFL Hall of Famer) a little bit as a running back. He’ll take his time getting back to the huddle (shaking off injuries). He says he feels good.”
Mentally, the Jayhawks are in a good spot as well. KU has won 14 straight games, longest win streak since the Jayhawks rolled to 18 straight victories in the 2012-13 season.
“We’ve had other teams play well,” Self said. “We’ve won 14 in a row against great competition. That’s being on a roll, but you can win four of five and be on a roll as well. This team has probably been as hot as any team we’ve had since I’ve been here. That 2008 team got on a serious roll late (winning last 13 games during 37-3 NCAA title season) but this team has been on a pretty good roll itself.”
Gracious hosts: This marks the first time Des Moines has hosted NCAA Tournament games.
“This is nice,” Self said. “It looks to be a nice hotel (Embassy Suites). The location is great. We’re just a half mile from the arena so that’s great. I don’t see anything negative at all. I’m sure it will mean a lot to the city of Des Moines to be a great host. I’m sure everybody will be treated first class.”
Chris Connolly, general manager of Wells Fargo Arena told the Des Moines Register: “This is like an audition for us, and we want to roll out the red carpet for the athletes and the NCAA. We want to do a really good job with it so we’re in a position to get it again.”
“This is really important to Iowa, and it’s really important to the metro area, and it’s our intent that this isn’t just going to be a one-time deal,” Greg Edwards, president and CEO of the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau told the Register. “We want this to be a longtime marriage.”
Fan talk: Wells Fargo Arena seats 17,000 fans. “We travel great. I think we’ll have our fair share of fans,” Self said. “I think our fans probably anticipated being here. Throw Indiana and Kentucky in the mix ... there aren’t going to be extra tickets. This will be a hot ticket for anybody that wants to come to the games I’d think.”
Itinerary: “We’re going to eat tonight at some restaurant. I’m sure it’ll be a nice one,” Self said Tuesday. “We always do that when we have two days (on road trip). We’ll get ‘em out of the hotel tonight. Tomorrow is a hectic day. We’ll go practice on our own at a location, leave there and go to the Arena where we have to do the media and open practice. We’ll come back tomorrow night and get rested with tape, scouting report and get ready to play.”