Final Four

Syracuse players arrive in Atlanta to cheers from local alumni ahead of Final Four date with Michigan

Chris Iseman | Sports Editor

A sign welcomes Syracuse fans into the Westin Hotel, where the Syracuse men's basketball team is staying in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — Jim Boeheim climbed the stairs of the Westin Hotel wearing a wide smile. Waiting at the top was a group of Syracuse alumni, cheering for each player and coach who made their way through the lobby and up to their rooms.

As the Orange arrived for its first Final Four appearance in 10 years, it had its own welcoming party inside of the lobby of the team hotel. Ian Thompson, president of the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Atlanta (SUACOA), contacted other alumni in the area and asked them to gather at the hotel to welcome the team to town.

At about 6 p.m., they started arriving and waiting in the Westin lobby for the team to arrive. The group swelled to about 50 people by the end of the night, with the majority clad in orange.

“I’ve been contacted by everyone since the tournament started,” Thompson said. “We threw this together last minute once we found out the hotel and everything.”

The players began to trickle in shortly after 7 p.m. A band from a local school played music as the team made its way into the hotel. Some players made their way past fans to first head to their rooms and drop off their bags, but returned to sign autographs and take photos.

The biggest cheers, though, came for Boeheim. As soon as he rounded the corner at the bottom of the stairs, the crowd erupted. Boeheim went down the line and shook hands, also stopping to sign some autographs.

The players had no idea there would be anyone waiting for them at the hotel.

“It was fun, it was good to see all the support,” Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney said. “I was just shocked. This was an experience in itself, just coming into the hotel.”

Thompson, who graduated from SU in 2001, said he was flying home from Portland, Ore., when the Orange beat Marquette. He had Internet access on the flight, and as soon as the game was over, emails and text messages started flooding in.

Thompson said he immediately contacted the other SUACOA board members about different alumni events to hold. Tuesday’s welcoming party was just the first.

“This is beautiful. This is great,” Thompson said. “This is mostly local alumni right here.”

Samantha and Patrick Bresnahan, both of whom graduated from Syracuse in 2009 and married last October, said they knew they wanted to attend Tuesday’s event as soon as they found out about it.

“We definitely wanted to come out and support the team and let the guys know there’s a huge fan base in Atlanta,” Samantha said. “It was a great chance to see the team up close and cheer them on personally.”

The Bresnahans also have tickets to the Final Four game, but purchased them long before they found out Syracuse would be there. Shortly after the Orange was knocked out of the Elite Eight by Ohio State last season, they decided to enter the lottery for tickets to this year’s Final Four, since it would be right in their city.

They found out in August that they had actually gotten them.

“I said, ‘Next year, let’s go regardless of what happens,’” Patrick said. But they both knew the experience would be even greater if SU met them there.

“That would be ideal,’” Patrick said.

The purchase became even sweeter when Syracuse beat Marquette in the Elite Eight. Tuesday was the perfect way to kick off Final Four week.

Several players said they appreciated the support. SU forward Rakeem Christmas said the flight to Atlanta was just like any other flight during the year, even though the destination wasn’t just for any other game, but the Final Four instead.

The arrival to the hotel, though, was something completely different.

“It was definitely something. We’ve been through the Elite Eight, the Sweet 16 and we’ve never had anything like this,” SU forward James Southerland said. “I never expected anything like this.”

Many of the alumni said the welcoming party shows Syracuse will have plenty of support in the South when it moves to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.

For now, though, the focus is on the Final Four. That’s when the support will move from the lobby to the Georgia Dome.

Said Southerland: “It’s nice to see we have a little fan base in Atlanta.”

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