Panthers Put UW-Milwaukee on the Map
By ARNIE STAPLETON : AP Sports Writer
Mar 21, 2005 : 8:12 pm ET
MILWAUKEE -- Before last weekend, Wisconsin-Milwaukee was best known for being the school where the late Israeli prime minister Golda Meir went.
For "Happy Days" aficionados, it's where Richie Cunningham, Potsie Weber and Ralph Malph all hit the books when they weren't hanging out at Arnold's Drive-in.
Now, the No. 12 Panthers are the lowest seed remaining in the NCAA tournament, holding the banner for all the mid-majors who dream of knocking off the big basketball schools like Alabama and Boston College, both of which fell to Bruce Pearl's pressing Panthers, champions of the Horizon League, last week in Cleveland.
UWM is a commuter school of 25,000 that has gone from NAIA Division II to NCAA Division I in a little more than a decade.
When athletic director Bud Haidet was hired in 1988, he counted 65 fans at his first basketball game and many of them mistakenly handed back the pom-pons he gave them on their way into the arena.
Now, UWM is taking some of the spotlight off Marquette, just 6 miles away, which went to the Final Four two years ago, and the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where the Badgers, under former Panthers coach Bo Ryan, are also in the Round of 16.
There wasn't a lot of buzz on campus Monday, however, because spring break just started.
"We only have one dormitory but I still feel the support, I've gotten lots of e-mails," guard Ed McCants said.
About 50 people, mostly friends and family, greeted the Panthers at Mitchell International Airport upon their triumphant return Sunday.
On Monday, players entering the Klotsche Center to practice weren't met by a throng of fans but by two men seeking autographs on four deflated basketballs, items that might very well end up on eBay.
"It's quieter than usual today except for you guys," forward Adrian Tigert said of the 50 or so reporters who converged on the campus.
Some students did gather at the campus bookstore to buy commemorative T-shirts, among them Nicole Dzomba of Milwaukee.
"It's real exciting, it's very cool," she said as she picked out a yellow T-shirt. "I think everyone's happy but nervous, too."
Other students raced to the ticket office to put their names in for the 1,250 tickets made available to the school for the Panthers' next game, against top-ranked Illinois on Thursday in the Chicago Regional.
Pearl hoped the biggest crowd of reporters to gather at one of his practices would ask about the David vs. Goliath story line. He wanted to rave about his stars, McCants and Joah Tucker. He preferred to talk about how no No. 12 seed has ever beaten a No. 1 seed.
"We're trying to do something that's never been done. We're trying to make history," he said.
He even pitched a story about Illinois coach and Milwaukee native Bruce Weber playing his alma mater, where he unsuccessfully tried out for the UWM basketball team.