Glendale, Az. – Maik Kotsar walked onto the basketball court at University of Phoenix Stadium on Thursday, but even that wasn't enough to confirm that he was really at the Final Four, the most prestigious event in college basketball.
"To be honest, it still hasn't hit me," Kotsar said. "Just a surreal feeling."
The Gamecocks arrived to Phoenix on Wednesday, and they were immediately bombarded with placards, advertisements, pictures and generosity from everyone in town.
"I've never been to Arizona, and just to come here and see the reception that we received from the fans and the hotel and everything like that, it's been tremendous," senior Duane Notice said. "It's been a good experience so far."
The entire week has been crazy for South Carolina, and everything that comes with the exposure of being in the Final Four takes some time to get used to.
However, the Gamecocks set a deadline for themselves to cut off distractions from the outside world. When they stepped onto the team plane on Wednesday afternoon, the focus turned to South Carolina's opponent on Saturday in the national semifinal, Gonzaga.
"I've tried real hard to keep our players in the right place and get them focused in on everything that matters," head coach Frank Martin said.
canThe Gamecocks' locker room at University of Phoenix Stadium was decorated to the gill with all sorts of things. The wall outside the locker room was painted in Garnet and featured the Block-C logo. Inside, there were more paintings on the wall that showcased South Carolina and its accomplishment of being the NCAA East Regional champion.
"I walk in here and see a backdrop of our whole team celebrating, I think that's wonderful," Hassani Gravett said. "Living the dreams, man. I never thought I would be this far."
Not many people thought the Gamecocks could get to where they are now. Oregon, North Carolina and Gonzaga were all teams that received a lot of attention throughout the year, but South Carolina flew under the radar until its upset win over Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Now in the Final Four, the Gamecocks have commanded more respect, but are still perceived as a big underdog.
"Do we feel like underdogs? No, because we feel like we belong here," senior Justin McKie said. "Is the rest of the world making us underdogs? Yes, which I think does give us a little bit of a chip on our shoulder."
On Sunday when the Gamecocks returned from New York, they enjoyed themselves as they received a warm welcome back from hundreds of fans outside Colonial Life Arena after the Elite Eight win over Florida. Monday was a day off, so they continued to reflect on what they had just done.
However, starting on Tuesday, the attention started to turn wholeheartedly to the opponent ahead – Gonzaga. Then, when the team stepped on the plane on Wednesday to travel to Phoenix, all distractions whatsoever were set aside.
"We left everything else in the past," Gravett said. "That's old news. We're trying to continue history at this school. We have to keep our heads straight."
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Artie Walker**