One last round of applause. One last rally. One last cheer.
The Detroit Titans returned to their team hotel defeated, but not in the minds of the couple dozen fans, spirit group members and alumni that stayed up to greet Detroit as it came off an eerily silent bus at about 1 a.m. Saturday morning.
With UDM president Dr. Antoine Garibaldi at the head, the group formed a tunnel for the players to walk through upon entering the hotel doors.
The 2012 Horizon League champions' season ended at the hands of one of the nation's best teams, coach Ray McCallum said. But that doesn't take away from what they accomplished.
"Our goal was to build and try and win a (conference) championship," he said. "To follow up a championship from (Butler) is just showing us that we're on the right track and moving in the right direction. We are right where we want to be."
Although Detroit's 65-50 loss stings now, the players said they're able to focus on the bigger picture.
"It will never taint what we've been able to do," senior Donavan Foster said.
Senior LaMarcus Lowe agreed.
"We're not going to look at this loss," he said. "We're going to look at all the good times we had. Winning that championship with those guys was great. We're going to enjoy the time spent together and remember it forever."
Michael Martinez is a senior at the University of Detroit Mercy. You can follow him on Twitter: @VNEditorMike
The Titans might look a little different in their matchup against Kansas tonight.
Typically, head coach Ray McCallum doesn't mind letting his players wear whatever shoe they feel comfortable in.
They'll all be wearing the same ones tonight, though.
The team, under contract with Nike, was given red and gray versions of the Nike Zoom Hyperenforcer to wear in the tournament—as were all schools who have deals with the Swoosh.
"They're pretty comfortable," said Eli Holman, who wears a size 19. "I broke ‘em in earlier. You have to break them in the day before the game, you never want to go out with brand new shoes on."
Ray McCallum, a sneaker head who's worn everything from the latest Air Jordans to Kevin Durant's signature shoe, said he doesn't mind the new kicks.
"I like them," McCallum said. "The red and gray is something different, a light cut."
Although he's worn about five different pairs this season, he said they're just for show and have no effect on the game.
"Shoes don't matter, man," he said. "It's all about coming out and playing. It ain't about what you got on your feet, as long as you come out and compete."
The Titans 9:57 p.m. EST tip is the team's latest start time all season. Both UDM and Kansas are unaccustomed to it but Ray McCallum said playing until midnight won't be a factor.
"We're college kids," he said. "We're up all night sometimes. There's no way you come out tired with these bright lights. This is what you wish for."
Jayhawk guard Tyshawn Taylor said the late game isn't ideal because he gets antsy watching the tournament's other contests.
"Personally I don't like it," he said. "I don't like sitting around and waiting for the games, I feel like it's one of those things where I feel like I've got to tone it down a little bit. I don't like playing the last game but that's the draw and we've got to take advantage of the situation the best we can."
His teammate, Elijah Johnson, had another take on it.
"We play when we play," he said. "We're anxious to play and we will just wait our turn. I'm enjoying the process; I'm not in a rush."
Kansas coach Bill Self said he'll try to break up the day and keep his players busy, so they're not sitting around thinking about the game. UDM coach Ray McCallum said he'd try to do the same thing, although the two coaches have different styles.
Self said he might let his team sleep longer but McCallum said he likes waking his players up earlier to "get the blood flowing." The Titans left the team hotel for a morning shoot around at 9:30 a.m.
Detroit's game against Kansas will be broadcast on truTV Friday night at 9:57 p.m. EST. Marv Albert will provide the play-by-play while Steve Kerr will add color commentary.
Craig Sager will handle sideline reporting.
Kerr said he's not too familiar with UDM, but has been watching "a lot of tape" on them the last few days.
After Thursday's open practice, he said he was particularly impressed with the play of Ray McCallum.
"He's a really impressive guard," Kerr said. "He's probably as good as anybody out there. He's athletic, smart and has great pace to his game. He's the main reason they're here; he ties it all together for them."
Kerr said McCallum, who "definitely plays like a coach's son," will face a tough task tomorrow night in Kansas. The former Arizona Wildcat said there's no single key to victory for Detroit.
"I don't know if you can boil it down to one," he said. "You're playing Kansas but you can't be in awe. You have to come out and establish something
early. In any tournament game the underdog has to prove to the other team and themselves that they can win. The first 10 minutes are really important."
Everyone in Titan Nation knows what Doug Anderson can do with a basketball. Detroit's dynamic dunker had the chance to impress the people of Omaha at UDM's open practice Thursday night—and he didn't disappoint.
As the Titans' 50-minute session ended, Anderson rose for one final dunk. His between-the-legs jam broke part of the backboard and sent a screw flying off the shot clock and on to the court.
YOU CAN WATCH THE DUNK HERE -> http://bit.ly/yFiCjH
"He's a freak," said Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor about an hour before Detroit took the court at CenturyLink Center. "He's really athletic. He's got a big body and he can get off the ground."
The Titans have arrived in Omaha!
After one last press conference, the team, pep band, cheerleaders and dance team boarded a chartered flight for the two-hour trip west.
Apparently, people are taking notice of the Titans. Instead of his usual in-flight speech, the pilot had a special message for those on board.
"Welcome to Southwest airlines," he said over the P.A. system, "I'd like to thank coach McCallum for bringing pride back to Detroit. Good luck in the tournament."
Once we touched down, buses were waiting to shuttle us straight to the hotel, which is about a 20-minute drive from Century Link Center, where they'll play Friday.
The team was given the rest of the day to relax, but that changes today.
After an off-site practice, UDM will hold an open practice tonight at 6:40 p.m.
The Titans won't be sprinting or running plays, McCallum said, but will use the time to get used to a small detail that many might overlook.
Apparently, not all basketballs are created equal.
"I think it's an opportunity for us to get familiar with the basketballs," he said. "We play with Nike balls. The NCAA tournament ball is different. Getting familiar with the rims and the shooting background is important. It will mainly be a practice that consists of shooting."
Not all the Titans are strangers to the Big Dance.
Senior Eli Holman got a brief taste of the NCAA tournament when he was a freshman at Indiana in 2007-08. Head coach Ray McCallum was also part of that Hoosier squad as an assistant under Kelvin Sampson.
Holman, McCallum and Indiana fell to Arkansas, 86-72, in the first round of the tournament.
While he didn't play in that game, Holman said he'll use what he learned to help this year's team.
"It's going to be a great atmosphere, first of all," Holman said. "There's nothing like the tournament. The biggest thing I'm going to preach is our preparation."
Holman often says success in games stems from preparation in practice and, according to McCallum, the last few sessions have been lively.
Now, the duo is trying to go one step farther than they did at Indiana. Regardless of what happens, Holman said he's happy to be at this point.
"This is well deserved for Detroit," Holman said following the team's conference championship in Valparaiso. "This is why I followed coach McCallum."
Detroit's spirit groups—the cheerleaders, pep band and dance team—have logged over 34 hours of travel time between UDM's men's and women's conference basketball tournaments since March 2.
In less than 24 hours, they'll be at it again, this time headed to Omaha, NE, for the Titans tilt with Kansas. But the dance team, DT2, isn't upset. The dancers are actually quite happy.
"I'm excited because we get to fly," said team captain Kasey Stark. "The NCAA is paying for us to travel. That's pretty cool."
Usually Stark and company are forced to endure long bus rides to wherever the Titans play. According to the team, those rides aren't all pom-poms and glitter.
Sunday night, somewhere between Detroit and Green Bay, their driver got lost. To make matters worse, the back door kept flying open and the bus ran out of transmission fluid, forcing the eight-hour ride to take longer than usual.
Throw in a vehicle that smells like a mixture of hairspray, body odor and day-old fast food and it's enough to make the perkiest of dancers feel frustrated.
But the horror stories are hard to come by.
"Every part of the tournament is fun, besides traveling," said Hillary Miller, a freshman in her first year with DT2.
Finding new malls to shop at, singing karaoke at restaurants and bonding with each other rank among their best memories.
Amid all the fun, they still find time, somehow, to keep up with their demanding academic programs. Most are biology majors and often they help each other with the difficult work.
"Our advisor came up to us on our free day and asked where we wanted to go," Stark said. "We asked, ‘Can you take us to a library?'"
They're not quite pleased with UDM's tournament location ("What's in Nebraska besides grass?"
one asked) but are ready to make new memories.
They don't have anything specific planned, though.
"We never know what's going to happen until we get there," Stark said.
Jillian Terry, a freshman, agreed.
"We don't need anything to have fun," she said.
The dance team is legitimately excited for the basketball players. Being at every game has made them appreciate the Titans, but they still keep an eye out for their own competition.
What's the first thing they did when they heard UDM would face the Jayhawks?
"We Googled their dance team," Miller said.
This week will be like any other for Nick Minnerath—NCAA tournament game or not.
The Detroit Titans senior will spend six hours each day rehabbing his torn ACL and MCL, a healing process that started when he was injured last November.
Arguably UDM's most versatile player, Minnerath's season ended abruptly and he was forced to watch his team win a conference championship from the sidelines.
But he isn't focusing on the pain. He's not worried about the twice-a-day, five-day-a-week rehab schedule, either.
He's just enjoying the moment—and waiting for his own.
"It's nothing but positive," he said of his thoughts. "No question it's been the hardest year of my life but you can't look back on it. I'm getting healthy and I'll be ready for next year."
Although Minnerath can't practice, he said he tries to serve as a mentor on the bench during games.
"I try to do that," he said. "It's hard in the emotion of the game to listen but you have to be there for the guys that are playing knowing they'd be doing the same for you."
Minnerath said he's trying to build muscle around his knee with leg presses and other exercises and hopes to be jogging within a month.
He also hopes to continue to watch his team win.
"It's been unbelievable," he said. "It's been great for the guys who are playing and I can't wait to do it next year."
We all have our favorite March Madness memories and the Detroit Titans are no different.
A few players grew up rooting for perennial powerhouse North Carolina.
Senior Chase Simon said he cheered for them because of Michael Jordan. Doug Anderson, Detroit's high-flying dunker, said he appreciated a more recent incarnation of Tarheels.
"For years I didn't really watch basketball, but I'd have to say North Carolina when they played Michigan State in the championship game in 2009," he said. "It was a big game, everybody was sitting there watching it and that was the team I picked to win it."
Freshman P.J. Boutte also grew up rooting for North Carolina. The 5-foot-9-inch point guard said he enjoyed watching the smaller Tarheel guards, like Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton.
Ray McCallum watched his favorite tournament moment live.
"In 2008 when my dad was at Indiana, Stephen Curry was making his run," he said. "We were in North Carolina and (Davidson) played after us against Georgetown and that's when he had his first big 30-point game."
Senior LaMarcus Lowe is known as a defender and rebounder. But the lanky center's favorite player was more of a scorer.
"I remember when my favorite player, Carmelo Anthony, won the championship in '03," he said. "I had been watching him his whole freshman year and him winning a championship has always inspired me to get to March Madness and do the same thing."
All the players agreed that their new favorite tournament memory might just be four days away.
"Anything can happen," McCallum said. "They don't call it March Madness for nothing. If we come out and play our game, someone on this team might have a chance to shine."
Sunday - 9pm
Detroit Mercy waited 13 years to dance. And it seemed to take just as long Sunday to find out who'd they be dancing with.
Hundreds packed Calihan Hall for UDM's first selection show party since 1999. The front bleachers were full nearly an hour before the 6 p.m. show started as fans watched the end of the Big Ten championship game.
Theatrics were kept to a minimum; the cheerleaders and dance teams were in Wisconsin for the women's basketball game against Green Bay and most students weren't yet back from spring break.
But there was a definite buzz in the building.
That buzz grew louder and louder as each region was selected. You could sense fans ready to explode as matchups for Duke, Michigan State and Missouri were called.
The strongest disappointment came when it was announced Michigan would play Ohio. Some of the players admitted they wanted to play the Wolverines but were just excited to hear their name called regardless of the opponent.
The players reacted differently to the selection process.
Doug Anderson said he was just excited to be part of it all. LaMarcus Lowe and Ray McCallum admitted it was nerve racking.
Eli Holman joked he was scared UDM wouldn't even be called for a minute.
But they were called, and everyone erupted into cheers when it was announced Detroit would face Kansas in Omaha, Neb. Friday.
Coach Ray McCallum spoke to the crowd
and his remarks focused on the fans as he thanked them for their support, repeating over and over that this was an "exciting time" for the school.
The next five days are sure to be even more exciting.