Basketball Panthers Begin Elite Eight Experience With Banquet At Churchill Downs
Courtesy of Drury Athletic Department
Louisville, Ky. -- Drury's first-ever men's basketball Elite Eight experience tipped off Tuesday night with introductions to a pair of local legends - Churchill Downs and former Louisville basketball star Darrell Griffith.
The Panthers (28-4), who open play in the NCAA-II Elite Eight on Thursday night when they take on USC-Aiken (25-7) at 8:30 p.m. (EST) at Freedom Hall, were treated to a banquet for all eight teams on Tuesday night in the MIllionaire's Club at Churchill Downs, thoroughbred horse racings most hallowed ground and the annual site of the sports' elite event, the Kentucky Derby.
Head coaches of each of the eight remaining teams among the 300-plus in D-II - with Metro State, Franklin Pierce, Winona State, West Liberty, Florida Southern and Western Washington joining USC-Aiken and the Panthers - spoke briefly about their teams before Griffith took to the microphone.
The former NBA star with the Utah Jazz, and a player nicknamed "Dr. Dunkenstein" in his heyday with Louisville's Cardinals back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, spoke on the importance of today's college athletes embracing the opportunity to use basketball as a means to get their education and make business connections that will last a lifetime.
Griffith - who led Louisville to the 1980 NCAA national championship with a finals win over UCLA, also advised the Elite Eight teams, players and coaches to fully soak in the historic aspect of getting to play in the 20,000-seat Freedom Hall. It hosted six NCAA Division I Final Fours in its heyday - tournaments won by the likes of legendary coaches Adolph Rupp (Kentucky) and John Wooden (UCLA) and players like former Bruins star Lew Alcindor (later, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) who walked away with national titles on the same floor.
"This will be an experience you will never forget in your lifetime," Griffith said.
The Panthers have a busy Wednesday in store, including an appearance at a local school in the morning, a press conference for the head coaches of all eight teams in the afternoon and their practice time from 5 to 6 p.m. at Freedom Hall, which is open to the public.
Tickets for the Elite Eight are $15 for reserved seats and $10 for general admission for each session. With two games - Metro State vs. Franklin Pierce and West Liberty vs. Winona State - in Thursday's noon (EST) session, and the evening session starting with Western Washington vs. Florida Southern at 6 before the Panthers take the floor. The games will be streamed live, free of charge, at www.ncaa.com.
Saturday's semifinals at Freedom Hall are set for noon (EST) and 2:30 p.m., with Drury slated to play the second semifinal should the Panthers defeat USC-Aiken. Saturday's two survivors will advance to the NCAA-II national championship game on Sunday, April 7 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Ga. (4 p.m. EST tipoff).
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