Heroes come home
Purdue University welcomes home national champions
Posted: Monday March 29, 1999 07:43 PM
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (CNN/SI) -- Purdue guard Stephanie White-McCarty has been drawing crowds since high school. The Boilermakers averaged almost 10,000 fans for home games this year. But with Purdue winning its first national championship Sunday night, defeating Duke 62-45, the Boilermaker following will only get bigger.
The bleary-eyed Purdue fans that greeted the returning team Monday were already looking ahead to next seasson.
"This is huge for the program and it's huge for Purdue and for the conference, too," said Amy Thering, a university employee who greeted the players Monday morning as they arrived at Purdue University Airport.
"I'm excited to see what's going to happen next year," she said. "I hope they can carry the enthusiasm they had this season."
Purdue defeated Duke 62-45 in San Jose, Calif., to capture the NCAA title Sunday night. The team arrived at the Purdue airport about 2 1/2 hours behind schedule after heavy fog rerouted the plane to Indianapolis.
About 75 fans screaming louder than the plane's engines seemed to energize the visibly weary basketball players as the exited the aircraft Monday morning.
Many of the team members headed into the crowd to hug family members, friends and fans, sign autographs and proudly show off their championship rings.
"It feels great," said sophomore center Camille Cooper. "We just really wanted to get home and be with our fans."
Coach Carolyn Peck said the fan turnout was "awesome."
"It's really good to be home. It was so good for everyone to share in this [win] because they're all a big part of it," said Peck, who capped her two-year Purdue career with the NCAA title.
Peck is moving onto professional basketball to become coach and general manager of the Orlando Miracle, a WNBA expansion team.
After their plane arrived Monday, a few players boarded a bus. But most left with friends and relatives as they went their separate ways. Many spoke of getting some sleep after their long red-eye flight.
"I'll probably sleep the entire day," Cooper said.
The team will reunite Wednesday evening for a pep rally at Mackey Arena.
Before the plane landed Monday, hundreds of students and fans from the West Lafayette area packed the halls of the Purdue airport. Many of the students had been up all night, celebrating the victory that "doesn't happen every day."
One group had been camped out at the airport since 4 a.m.
"We just want to cheer for them," said Tom Zimmerman, 19. "I haven't seen anything like this before."
After Purdue's victory, about 2,000 Purdue students spilled out of dorms and into campus streets for a long night of partying that at times got out of hand.
West Lafayette Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd about 3 a.m., after students set a bonfire in the middle of a main campus street, burning dorm furniture, Purdue spokesman Joseph Bennett said.
Students damaged about a dozen traffic lights, a Tippecanoe County sheriff's cruiser and a small university utility vehicle, Bennett said.
When police stepped in, some students threw bottles. Three minor injuries were reported, but no arrests were made. University police, Indiana State Police troopers and Tippecanoe County officials also were called to the scene.
While sitting on a blanket at the airport early Monday, Zimmerman and his roommates recalled the antics that unfolded just hours before.
"We could hear the screaming from a mile away," Zimmerman said. He said he and his friends joined the crowd and watched as students built the bonfire, burning everything from an old couch to a soda machine.
"I did not see this coming," Bennett said. "Ninety-nine percent of [the celebration] was a positive thing, but a very small group of people made some bad decisions."
Although it was the Boilermakers' 10th tournament appearance, it was the first time the team had made it to the national title game. In 1994, Purdue lost to North Carolina in the semifinals, 89-74.
The men's team has never won a championship in 18 tournament appearances.
"The last time we were a national contender for anything was the mid-90s and we never did it," student Darryl Grant said. "The women made it for the first time and they did it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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