Their quest for the NCAA championship fell short, but Kansas University's men's basketball player still received a thunderous welcome when they returned home Tuesday from New Orleans.
"Everyone here sees them as winners," said Jim Stewart, 53, Shawnee. "They shouldn't hang their heads."
Stewart was among a crowd KU police estimated at nearly 10,000 people that filled more than half of Allen Fieldhouse.
KU juniors Ryan Crowder and Abby Schwartz, both from Overland Park, spent Monday night on the edge of their seats nervously hoping for a miracle that would give the Jayhawks a last-second victory over Syracuse. The miracle didn't materialize, but it didn't keep Crowder and Schwartz from attending the welcome home party.
"I just wanted to show support for coach Roy (Williams) and his team and see what they had to say," Schwartz said. "Even though they lost last night, I thought they did a tremendous job."
Crowder agreed. He said he thought the Jayhawks were in big trouble earlier in the season when sophomore forward Wayne Simien went out with a shoulder injury.
"It was a surprise that they went this far," Crowder said. "Last night I thought we were really going to win it."
Joe Arneson, 57, Lawrence, wanted to make sure the Jayhawks didn't get down on themselves.
"To go that far and then finish second, it's tough, but they had a great run," Arneson said.
Olivia Wade, 18, spent most of Tuesday traveling from her home in Jetmore to show her affection for the team. Along the way she picked up friend Paul Hendricks, 21, in Salina.
Wade, Hendricks and many others had more on their minds than just welcoming home the Jayhawks.
They also were hoping they weren't saying an unofficial goodbye to Williams. Rumors continued Tuesday that Williams might be considering the head coaching job at North Carolina because of his discontent with KU athletic director Al Bohl.
"It will break our hearts if he does go," Wade said.
Williams and his team received a standing ovation when they walked onto the court.
"You guys are phenomenal to be here on a day like this," Williams told the crowd. "Maybe, maybe Syracuse may have a bigger crowd, who knows, but I can tell you one thing, nowhere else in the country would people show up like you do after losing the final game."
Williams said he kept for motivational purposes an Associated Press story that early in the season described KU as a big disappointment after a 3-3 start.
"We had a few bumps and a few little bruises along the way, and we had some obstacles, but this was the most satisfying year that I've ever had as a college coach," Williams said.
Seniors Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich addressed their fans for the last time.
"I'm really going to miss this place," Hinrich said. "I've got a lot of great memories."
Collison said he would never forget his years at KU and complimented the fans.
"You guys really are the best, and you'll keep this program where it is forever," he said.
Sophomore Aaron Miles told the crowd the underclassmen on the team expected to return to the NCAA championship game.
"We're going to work our (tails) off this summer so we can get back next year," Miles said.