By Joey Yashinsky - a special to HorizonLeague.com
“I’d never been greeted at the hotel by a band before. It was a really fun experience.”
Those were the words of junior forward Stefan Rosic of Youngstown State, after arriving to the team hotel on Thursday and immediately being enveloped by the powerful sounds of the Oak Park High School Marching Band.
“That was the first time I’d seen something like that,” said Rosic. “I got to capture it on my phone and will send the video to my people back home (in Serbia).”
Such was the scene for several teams Thursday afternoon as they began their Horizon League tournament journey. As soon as the first student-athlete for a particular school popped their head through the door, band director Virgil Goodwine’s hands would go up, and within seconds, a frigid Detroit afternoon had transformed into a high-spirited indoor parade.
Dani Franklin, a standout junior for the Valparaiso Crusaders, finished second in the conference in scoring, free throw percentage, and 3-point accuracy. She was similarly impressed by the atmosphere awaiting them in Detroit.
“The excitement level is really high. I definitely was not expecting it to be this much fun so early on, for everyone to be so into it. The band just topped it off because they were so rambunctious and energetic.”
The Valpo star was enthused to see some other familiar faces from the conference, too.
“It was really nice to be greeted at the hotel by the commissioner (Jonathan B. LeCrone). It made us feel very welcome.”
Hometown hero Josh McFolley of Detroit Mercy didn’t recall such pomp and circumstance in tournaments’ past. “We didn’t get a band in the lobby last year. To have that this time, it was very nice.”
With the actual games not starting until the following day, players from all schools appeared loose and carefree. Many of them grabbed their phones to record the foot-stomping band, while others took it a step further and busted out their best dance moves.
Oak Park drum major Jalen Williams said, “There’s a little bit more pressure than usual because you’re seeing these athletes coming from all over the country. The teams that came in today seemed excited and it just made us want to play really well for them.”
For half of the squads that take the Joe Louis Arena court Friday, it will wind up being their curtain call in the 2017 Horizon League tournament. But for everyone, on this day of arrivals and beginnings, Motor City Madness hit all the right notes.