Seven bananas walked into a football stadium Saturday to watch a basketball game. You can make up your own punchline, because Ben Donovan and his buddies have heard them all.
“I ran into a couple of my bosses, and they said, ‘A banana suit? Really?’ ” said Donovan, a fourth-year student at Virginia and a statistician for the basketball team. “But I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”
What he and his bunch had to do Saturday was yell their lungs out for the Cavaliers in their 63-62 victory over Auburn in the NCAA semifinals. Even in a sea of students wearing fuzzy wigs, construction helmets, elaborate face paint and more beads than at Mardi Gras, they had extra a-peel. The “Banana Boys” were among hundreds of students who paid $40 to sit in the sections on the arena floor behind the baskets, giving a little home-court ambience to a cavernous stadium.
Before Saturday, the bananas’ biggest brush with fame had been showing up in the background of a photo in the Wall Street Journal. They got some TV face time during the semifinal, making it worth the 18-hour drive from Charlottesville, Va.
“We told mom and dad, ‘Look out for the yellow,’ ” said Gavin Hanks, a fourth-year student from Pulaski, Va. “We’ll all be wearing it.”
While some Virginia students got their parents to spring for airfare and hotels, the Banana Boys got creative with their lodging. Sam Hanny, a fourth-year student from Mechanicsville, Va., volunteers with a Christian group called Young Life. He called nine Twin Cities churches affiliated with the group to see if he and his friends could crash there.
City Church Minneapolis obliged, setting up 20 air mattresses. “No showers, though,” Hanny said. “That’s not a problem yet.”
It could be, since their stay was extended until Monday. But their costs will stay low; students cheering on Saturday’s winners get free tickets for the championship game.
Going (way) up
Dave Zrostlik understood where his Final Four seats were when he bought them about a year ago. Section 341, row 22, at the top of U.S. Bank Stadium.
Trekking up to that height is not for the easily winded, or the faint of heart. The climb was even more taxing for Zrostlik, who was wearing a boot on his left foot because of Achilles’ tendinitis. But he and his sons had the whole row to themselves — all four seats — and the Iowa State fan had no complaints.
“It took me a while to get up here,” said Zrostlik, who got his tickets through the NCAA lottery for $200 each. “I knew it was high, but not this high. I don’t have binoculars, either. But I think it’s a great view.”
Zrostlik, of Garner, Iowa, has been to Vikings games. He had always sat in his company’s club seats, though, and had never summited the stadium.
The court looked like a postage stamp from that vantage point, but the mammoth video screens hanging from the center of the roof supplemented the view.
• Though hundreds of media were credentialed to cover the Final Four, one seat was left unoccupied Saturday. Longtime AP sportswriter Jim O’Connell died in July, and to honor him, the NCAA assigned him a seat in the south media stands and kept it open. O’Connell was a well-loved chronicler of college basketball who covered 39 Final Fours between 1979-2017 and is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers’ Hall of Fame.
• The national anthem was sung by four NCAA athletes, one from each school in the Final Four. Hurdler Dorian Williams Jr. of Texas Tech played guitar, with vocals by Michigan State soccer player Zach Kovan and volleyball players Morgan Kull of Auburn and Milla Ciprian of Virginia.
• Michigan State fans had their own version of “Marco Polo” going on in the crowded main concourse. Whenever someone hollered, “Go Green!” the proper response echoed back from the restroom lines and condiment stands: “Go White!”
• Overheard in the Virginia student section: “I’m missing my formal right about now.” The way second-year student Sally Karras of Herndon, Va., saw it, she was simply swapping one big dance for another.