Explorers gaining confidence heading into matchup with K-State

RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER La Salle players take a moment for some team bonding after practice at the Spring Center in Kansas City.
RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER La Salle players take a moment for some team bonding after practice at the Spring Center in Kansas City.
Posted: March 22, 2013

KANSAS CITY - La Salle's first NCAA Tournament game in 21 years, and its first NCAA win in 23, ended Wednesday night in Dayton around 11:15. The Explorers left the arena about 1 hour, 15 minutes later. After a brief stop at their hotel and a 20-minute ride to the airport, their charter flight took off at approximately 1:30. It landed here some 2 hours later, but there is a 60-minute time-zone difference. Following another bus ride to another hotel the players finally got to their rooms in time to maybe catch the last "SportsCenter" replay from the West Coast before hopefully going to bed.

The good news, other than the fact that they're still playing? Their wake-up call wasn't until 11:30. Of course, they did have to do some of that mandatory study-hall stuff in the afternoon before heading to the Sprint Center for media interviews and practice. Why do you think they call them student-athletes?

Welcome to the Explorers' revitalized existence. They were the story line Sunday night, and they were still getting the headlines 76 hours later.

The back and front pages of the People Paper? Yo, that's what happens when you become the feel-good team everyone seems to be pulling for, regardless of allegiances.

And that's all memorable stuff, for a once-great program that wandered in the wilderness for entirely too long. Yet the reality is, La Salle (22-9) has at least one more game to play, on Friday afternoon in the second round of the West Regional, against fourth-seeded Kansas State (27-7), whose campus is only 2 hours away.

Nevertheless, it sure beats life in the NIT. By roughly a solar system.

"At this point, you don't have time to be tired or sore," senior guard Ramon Galloway said. "You can't have any negative energy. It's all positive."

The biggest drawback seemed to be that junior guard Tyrone Garland didn't have enough time to get his hair done just right.

They sure didn't come off sounding like a tight bunch. Actually, just the opposite.

"It's been great," said Garland, a Philly kid who, like Galloway, went away to school and transferred back. "We had to turn right back around to get here. I really didn't get that much sleep."

When you've waited this long for something, what's a few logistical speed bumps?

"We're very excited," junior Tyreek Duren said, "just because a lot of people doubted us and didn't think we were going to make it this far."

Or maybe even being in the field, which they barely did. But none of that matters anymore. They're no longer merely a 13 seed that had to survive the First Four or a play-in game or whatever the NCAA wants to call it. They belong. And they're determined to ride this unique odyssey out for all they're worth.

"It means a lot for coach G [John Giannini] . . . to have success right now," Galloway said. "Because La Salle has been off the map. We all wanted to get La Salle back to being a basketball program being mentioned with the top programs in the country, because we absolutely believe we can play with anybody in the country."

Kansas State might not be Louisville. Neither is it Boise State. This is hardly an easy assignment. The 4-13 game rarely is. Nor, though, does it appear impossible. Especially not if the Explorers resemble the group that showed up against the Broncos.

Should we mention that the only other time these teams met in the Madness, Mitch Richmond and Lionel Simmons were on the court?

"I just know they're a very tough team, and they're going to try and bully you," Duren said. "We have to be physical right with them."

Fortunately, their public workout was anything but.

"This is going to the most boring open practice ever," Giannini said. "We're already walked through in our hotel lobby. There will be no dunking or running around. We need to save our emotion for Kansas State. If we take it easy today, we won't be tired [Friday]."

Hey, he has that Ph.D for a reason.

"It's a great opportunity," he went on. "We've worked hard to get here. You don't have [this] opportunity very often. We feel blessed. We feel like we're on top of the world. We're not feeling sorry for ourselves at all. We just have to be careful. But we're in a good place. Every team, if you've made it this far, you've learned how to handle both adversity and success. I think our guys have proven they can do that."

On the floor and otherwise.

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