The words “vacation” and “trip” are often used interchangeably, but there are discernible differences (particularly if you have ever traveled with small children).
The point is being emphasized in another realm during the Final Four in Minneapolis, with festivities cranking up in earnest Friday.
Local basketball fans are ready for the party, and out-of-towners arriving to support Virginia, Auburn, Michigan State and Texas Tech are, by and large, here on a vacation.
But the teams themselves? This is a trip — a business trip, as players often repeated Friday during access sessions before thousands of fans watched them practice on the U.S. Bank Stadium court.
That juxtaposition played out throughout downtown Minneapolis on Friday.
Virginia fan Leslie Brown was among the early attendees for open practices. After Auburn got things started, her beloved Cavaliers took the court. Brown is originally from Virginia but now lives in Menomonie, Wis. — a little more than an hour east of Minneapolis.
She’s seen Virginia play on TV countless times over the years, but Brown hasn’t seen them in person since the 1970s when she was in high school. That is all changing this weekend.
“This is fantastic. I grew up watching Virginia basketball, so this is out of this world for me to have it be this close,” Brown said. “I’m going [Saturday]. I’m going Monday. I’m going to be out of my mind.”
Brown and others cheered as players from all four teams launched three-pointers and put on dunking displays during their loose practice sessions.
CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz interviewed coaches for all to hear. Spirit squads cheered and school bands played. Even the T-shirt cannon got a workout — all for practice.
Players from all teams said they appreciated the support.
“It has been great so far,” said Auburn junior forward Anfernee McLemore. “Just being out here and experiencing Minneapolis and being around all the supporters has been a great experience and something I’ve never been around before in my life.”
But a lot of them also made a key distinction: As much as they’re trying to soak in the experience, they know their time in Minneapolis is different from that of fans.
“We [are] really just trying to stay off our feet to stay rested and not waste our energy to try to stay ready for the game,” said Auburn senior forward Horace Spencer. “We know we’re on a business trip so we just want to continue to keep that in mind.”
Added Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver: “You for sure approach it as a business trip because at the end of the day, we came down here to try to play two games and win a national championship. Of course we’re going to enjoy it, and that’s what Coach always tells us to do — to enjoy the moments and smell the roses — but at the end of the day, we’re on a business trip to handle business.”
Virginia sophomore guard Marco Anthony said he hoped to use some free time Friday to “travel around a little bit and enjoy Minneapolis.”
If he mingled at all with fans on Nicollet Mall or the Fan Fest at the Convention Center, Anthony likely found a diverse group of supporters.
Die-hards in jerseys from countless teams — not just the Final Four participants, and some in Dwyane Wade jerseys with the NBA’s Heat in town Friday to play the Wolves — roamed around. They mixed with the usual downtown business crowd, though everyone seemed to be having fun taking pictures near the big bracket or in front of the Ferris wheel.
At the Fan Fest, fans — including a ton of families — moved seamlessly from branded station to branded station. They ate and drank. They played video games, threw footballs and had countless opportunities to shoot baskets.
It figures to get even more crowded in every place on Saturday and Sunday — especially as more of those vacationers arrive from out of town to watch the players get down to business.
“I think there are more coming in — a lot more,” said Brown, the Virginia fan. “I haven’t seen as many as I’d like to see yet, but I think Wahoo Nation will be arriving.”