It was 12:30 in the afternoon on a weekday, but Syracuse fans still managed to fill up Manley Arena's limited seating for Syracuse basketball's Final Four pep rally Wednesday. The men's and women's teams gave the Orange faithful one final "thank you" before heading to Houston and Indianapolis for the closing weekend of the college basketball season.
"We appreciate seeing your faces out here right now sending us off to the Final Four," Syracuse guard Brittney Sykes told the capacity crowd. "Nobody thought we would be here but our fans, and we thank you so much."
"I love being here today because there's no second-guessers here, there's no naysayers here," Jim Boeheim added. "Everybody here is for Syracuse University, Syracuse basketball."
"You guys are the best fans in the world," Trevor Cooney said. "Keep cheering us on. Now let's go win this thing."
Everyone who's anyone in Syracuse was there. Athletic Director Mark Coyle. Lieutenant Governor of New York Kathy Hochul. Otto. Mayor Stephanie Miner told fans the city is already thinking about celebrations, and County Executive Joanie Mahoney declared March 30 "Syracuse Basketball Day" in Onondaga County.
But while the fans and local politicians were all about congratulations, the teams let everyone know the job isn't done yet.
"We only have one goal, that's to bring home the national championship trophy," Quentin Hillsman said. "We'll see you on Salina Street for that big parade when we're both national champions."
Boeheim made sure everyone on hand knew his team was staying focused:
"We're not happy right now where we are. We're proud of what we've done but we're looking forward to two more games and looking forward to coming back here one more time to celebrate... I'm very proud of these guys. I told them that today, but there's no cinderellas here. These two teams up here deserve to be here. They are every bit capable of winning two more games."
Both teams are now on the road to the Final Four where they'll have the rest of the week to prepare for their games. The men's team plays first in Houston on Saturday against North Carolina, while the women face off with Washington in Indianapolis on Sunday. The Tar Heels have already beaten Jim Boeheim's squad twice this season, while the women took down Washington by four earlier in the year.