On Wednesday, two days before the start of official public NCAA Final Four activities, Texas Tech beat the other three teams into downtown Minneapolis, receiving a rousing red-and-black welcome at the Radisson Blu hotel.
The Red Raiders of Lubbock, Texas, arrived before noon and were welcomed by crews with red and black pompoms, a pep band and music — first at their airplane hangar and then in the lobby of their hotel, just off Nicollet Mall on S. 7th Street.
The team hotels stand out because of the blaring images of the celebratory players on the outside of the buildings and in the lobbies — to say nothing of the team-branded vehicles parked nearby.
Auburn players will stay across 7th Street from Texas Tech at the Marriott. Virginia’s down a couple of blocks at the Marquette Hotel, attached to the Crystal Court of the IDS Center. Michigan State’s hotel, the Hyatt Regency, is all the way down at 1300 Nicollet Mall.
In the Radisson lobby on Wednesday, family and team employees pondered dinner plans while the players and the coach remained upstairs.
Hiawatha and Regina Culver of Lubbock were open to dining suggestions. The couple are the parents of Tech’s sophomore star guard Jarrett Culver.
Hiawatha Culver, who is also the team’s chaplain, said they’re excited but not overly anxious for their son, who has played basketball since he was 6. “It’s a blessing,” Hiawatha Culver said. “This is surreal. We weren’t predicted to be here, yet we’re here.”
Regina Culver said people ask if they’re proud of their son, but she said happy is a better description because they get to see him doing what he wants to do. “What better joy than seeing your child doing what he loves to do and doing it at this level,” she said.
Down Nicollet Mall where the Tip-Off Tailgate will occur, the giant Ferris wheel was in place, the music stage was visibly taking shape near Orchestra Hall and Final Four banners hung from windows and lampposts. CBS set up a stage inside the Crystal Court for live broadcasts. The nearby shop sold official merchandise.
At 815 Nicollet Mall, Sarah Bolton was spraying window cleaner on the giant panes of a former drugstore converted to a fan merchandise shop. Bolton, who is a veteran of big-time sports events, arrived from Boston early in the day. She was here for the Super Bowl in 2018, selling merchandise. “That Super Bowl was brutal. Brutal,” she said, referring to the colder weather and the fact that her New England Patriots lost to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The merchandise was selling at a trickle Wednesday, but she said, “Once the fans start arriving Friday, the excitement builds.”
Prowling a nearby street, wearing a black pullover jacket with the Virginia Cavaliers’ logo was Amy Patterson of Atlanta. Patterson, a 1998 graduate of the university, is the senior vice president of operations for the 2020 Final Four in the Georgia capital. The Atlanta host committee will have more than 30 members in town to “see how Minneapolis does March Madness,” she said.
Patterson said the Final Four is more fun because of the collegiate atmosphere and the coaches in town for their convention and the after-hours socializing. “This is one like no other,” she said. “The restaurants will be full, people will be out having a great time.”
The public events start Friday. On Thursday all four teams and coaches have scheduled sessions with the media at U.S. Bank Stadium. The first two games are Saturday with the championship Monday night.