Danny Karwoski was wearing 23 basketballs on his head.
No, not real basketballs. Stuffed ones, attached to his blue-and-white wig. Connecticut Huskies fan, you know.
Columbus is the eighth NCAA women's Final Four that Karwoski has attended. He's truly a dyed-in-the-wool fan, as his headwear can attest, but he didn't become a big UConn women's fan until 1994-1995, when he was flipping through the channels one day and became hooked. That's the year the team had its first undefeated season and won the national championship, beating Tennessee.
Video: Bounce fills downtown streets
Karwoski, now 56, and a Stamford, Connecticut, resident, attached Huskies stickers to his cheeks in the plaza outside Nationwide Arena on a suddenly sun-splashed afternoon. Nationwide Arena is the 67th venue in which he's watched the Huskies. He spent $800 to buy a pair of tickets in the third row behind the basket.
Why 23 basketballs atop his head? In honor of Maya Moore, a forward for UConn's title teams of 2009 and 2010. She wore No. 23.
Asked how he felt about the chances of another undefeated UConn team winning it all, he said, "Very confident."
As no doubt many fans of Notre Dame, Louisville and Mississippi State thought about their own teams. Downtown was teeming with fans of all Final Four teams playing in Friday night's semifinal games, vying for a shot at the national championship game Sunday evening.
Scores of fans spent the afternoon strolling around the plaza, taking photos in front of Final Four banners, visiting watering holes designated for fans of each of the four teams or shooting baskets and watching a celebrity shootout at Tourney Town at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Jamey Hunt was with a group of six others who drove 12 hours through the rain from Mississippi to Columbus to cheer on Mississippi State, which beat UConn in the Final Four last year before losing to champion South Carolina. The women's game has caught on in Starkville, home of the Bulldogs, Hunt said. Not too long ago, the Bulldogs were drawing 500 to 1,000 for a game, he said. Now, it's 9,000 to 10,000.
The R Bar, usually the pregame home for Blue Jackets fans, was the base for Notre Dame fans Friday. More than seven hours before their team's scheduled 9:30 p.m. tipoff against UConn, three Notre Dame fans from Freehold, New Jersey — Bruce Springsteen's hometown — were enjoying adult beverages and excited to see a Jersey kid in the Final Four.
Cathy Preston, Linda Scanlon and Denise Shea are all big fans of Notre Dame junior guard Marina Mabrey, a proud graduate of Manasquan High School and No. 3 in your program.
Preston, Scanlon and Shea all sported Mabrey's name and number on their yellow T-shirts, all optimistic about Notre Dame's chances despite UConn.
"We talked to UConn fans. They're a little nervous," Preston, 54, said.
But outside Boston's Pizza, the gathering place for Husky fans, Ed Miller, his wife, Lorie, and daughter Brittany were sure UConn would come through.
Miller and his wife live in Canton, Michigan, their daughter in Dayton. None of them went to college in Connecticut. But the family became fans of the Huskies when guard Diana Taurasi starred for them from 2000-2004.
"I liked the way she played, the swagger," said Brittany Miller, who played guard when she was growing up and was coached by her dad. "Not a lot of girls played that way."
Lots play that way now. Some are just beginning to play on organized teams, such as Kaylor Pickelsimer, 12, and her friend Emma Sayre, 11, who play for their sixth-grade team at Portsmouth West Middle School.
Their moms, Mindy Pickelsimer and Alison Sayre, took their photos with the championship trophy at Tourney Town and were taking them to the games Friday and Sunday. Sayre said the girls have been playing since kindergarten and first grade.
Meanwhile, women's professional stars such as Katie Smith (Ohio State), Nancy Lieberman (Old Dominion) and Sheryl Swoopes (Texas Tech) played alongside former Buckeyes Greg Oden and J.J. Sullinger, among others, in the Celebrity Shootout at the convention center. An aside: Oden missed his first two short-range bank shots. Meanwhile, Columbus Crew ambassador Frankie Hejduk, clad in a yellow-and-black checked cape, drained a two-handed underhand shot from beyond the three-point arc.
This news has been published by title Fans Hooked By Women\'s College Basketball And Players Swarm Columbus For Final Four
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