Downtown Phoenix gets ready to host the NCAA Final Four Fan Fest and house the teams as they play in nearby Glendale for the NCAA Final Four games. David Wallace/

The latest from the Final Four in Glendale.

Keep coming back to this page for news and notes from University of Phoenix Stadium.

Kobe Bryant in the house

Oregon and Gonzaga, two of the three Nike schools in the Final Four, got a surprise visit from a prominent former NBA star with his own line of Nike shoes — Kobe Bryant.

“We thought we were going into just like a normal film session,” Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Ross said. “Some of the Nike reps talked to us and said they had someone to come out and speak to us, who really personified what it means to have that mentality. And then out came Kobe from the back and we just went crazy.

“He was just telling us to be prepared and not be nervous, because if we’ve done our homework and we’re prepared, there was nothing to be nervous about.”

There was no word if Bryant visited North Carolina’s team, but the Tar Heels already have their own Nike rep, Michael Jordan.

KU’s Mason to attend

Kansas fell short of the Final Four, but the Jayhawks’ megastar, Frank Mason III, is here, picking up his AP Player of the Year trophy. Mason was the Big 12 Player of the Year and the only unanimous selection to the AP All-America first team.

Mason is the first Kansas player to win the award — but he’d rather be playing in Glendale than winning individual honors. Kansas lost to Oregon in the Midwest Region final, and Mason said he hasn’t put it behind him yet.

MORE: Complete coverage of the Final Four

“I’ve still been thinking about it,” he said. “It’s been on my mind a lot. And I just have to move on to what’s next. And I just look at the bigger picture and focus on everything that I can control.”

About coming to Phoenix without his teammates, Mason said “it was very difficult. You know, I didn’t plan on doing this. My goals and our goals as a team was to be here as a family.”

Stadium’s awe factor

The NCAA hasn’t held a men’s Final Four in a traditional basketball arena since 1996. The lure of huge capacities in football stadiums has been irresistible.

This leads every March to that jaw-dropping moment when players and coaches practice for the first time on the court where they’ll try to win a championship.

RELATED: Court assembled in University of Phoenix Stadium

“I was wowed. It’s crazy,” South Carolina freshman guard Raykm Felder said. Added fellow Gamecocks freshman Maik Kotsar: “It’s extraordinary playing in a football stadium. I haven’t experienced anything like it.”

Gonzaga senior center Przemek Karnowski said “it’s amazing just how big it is. I’ve never had the chance to play in an environment like this.”

Unlike traditional basketball arenas, the football stadium setup requires the court to be raised several feet from floor level. That just adds to the surreal nature of the setting.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s a monster out there,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “I’m just glad I had a stool. I was afraid I was going to fall off the court out there.”

Although the court has the normal dimensions and the baskets are the usual height, the background is so vast that players often have trouble adjusting. It’s not unusual for Final Four games to post much lower shooting percentages than you’d expect. It will be interesting to see how much of a factor the translucent roof comes into play.

The players try not to think about that.

“It took a little while to adjust,” Gonzaga junior guard Silas Mason said about Thursday’s practice, “but I think as time went on we got used to it. We’ve been shooting all our lives.”

Practice times announced

Free and open to the public. Great chance to see the teams, the venue, the scoreboard, the floor.

Gamecocks star misses practice with illness

South Carolina star Sindarius Thornwell is dealing with an illness two days before the Final Four. He is not at University of Phoenix Stadium due to what coach Frank Martin said was a “little body bug” and did not practice. Martin, who is battling a bug himself, said Thornwell is back at the hotel resting and hydrating.

RELATED: Dunk, 3-point contest at GCU is sold out

The 6-foot-5 senior guard has led South Carolina to its first Final Four, practically carrying the Gamecocks by himself at times. He’s the leading scorer in the NCAA Tournament at 26 points per game and averaging 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2 steals per game.

— Associated Press

Seat assignments

There is a (March) madness to how fans, students and bands are situated at a Final Four. More like a science, actually.

The fringe benefit for being the higher seeds in the national semifinals is that the your support system will be seated near your bench.

For the first game, No. 1 seed Gonzaga’s bench will be in front of section 131 at University of Phoenix Stadium, or to the right of the official scorer’s table (as you’ll see it on TV). Gonzaga’s block of fan seating will be in the adjacent southeast quadrant of the stadium. The Bulldog Band will be to the left of the team bench in the south end, with students behind them.

MORE: Take your kids to Final Four events

In the second game, the other top seed, North Carolina, will have its bench in front of section 128, and Tar Heels fans will be in the northeast quadrant of the bowl. The UNC band will be to the right of the team bench.

Fans of the opponents, South Carolina and Oregon, will have to peer a little harder since they will be opposite their team benches. Oregon fans will be in the southwest quadrant, and South Carolina supporters in the northwest area.

Of course, you’ll see fans wearing the colors of all four teams sprinkled throughout the stadium once tickets change hands on the secondary market.

TV schedule for Saturday

No. 1 Gonzaga (36-1) vs. No. 7 South Carolina (26-10), 3:09 p.m., Channel 5 (Play-by-play: Jim Nantz. Analysts: Bill Raftery, Grant Hill. Reporter: Tracy Wolfson).

No. 1 North Carolina (31-7) vs. No. 3 Oregon (33-5), 5:49 p.m., Channel 5 (Play-by-play: Jim Nantz. Analysts: Bill Raftery, Grant Hill. Reporter: Tracy Wolfson).

TV schedule for Monday

Semifinal winners, 6:19 p.m., Channel 5 (Play-by-play: Jim Nantz. Analysts: Bill Raftery, Grant Hill. Reporter: Tracy Wolfson).


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