CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Chris Jans spent his Easter weekend smiling. The reason why occurred days in the past when Wichita State upended Ohio State in the Elite Eight. But every half hour or so, the Shockers associate head coach couldn't contain his joy.
"I just start chuckling," Jans said. "I don't know how to put it into words, but it's almost like, 'Can you believe this is happening?'"
The win sent Wichita State to its first Final Four since 1965. When the team flew to Atlanta on Wednesday, it brought Jans, who refers to himself as a proud Iowan.
Jans graduated from Wapsie Valley High School before playing at Loras College. While in Dubuque, Jans helped the Duhawks to a 47-25 record while breaking 16 scoring records and two NCAA Division III records for three-point shooting.
His success led to a head coaching job at Kirkwood Community College after pit stops at Elmhurst College in Chicago and Grand View College in Des Moines.
"Getting the opportunity at a young age, when I maybe didn't deserve at the time, I just tried to run with it," Jans said.
He sprinted with the opportunity, faster than Usain Bolt. He inherited an 11-20 team and in his second season he brought the Eagles to a second straight conference and regional championship. After falling short in year one, Jans and Company brought home the NJCAA National Championship in year two.
"Winning a national championship and all that goes into that, just the memories we created was awesome," Jans said. "It's something that they'll never be able to take away from those kids."
Jans hopes to create more championship memories this weekend. If Wichita State can topple No. 1 overall seed Louisville, the Shockers face either Michigan or Syracuse in the final on Monday.
When he sits on the sideline Saturday, he'll be more than 800 miles from Kirkwood, but his roots in Cedar Rapids will extend to the Georgia Dome.
"To this day I stay in touch with a lot of those guys," Jans said. "There's guys that I like to stay in touch regularly that played for me at Kirkwood. Obviously when you go through something like this, more and more of them reach out. I really enjoy that part of it."
The Shockers represent the first Missouri Valley Conference team in the Final Four since Larry Bird's Indiana State team in 1979. The Sycamores lost in the final to Magic Johnson's Michigan State Spartans.
Wichita State will try to rekindle that success against the Cardinals.
But the Shockers aren't looking to resurrect the spirits of Larry Legend. Instead they turned to a more contemporary Cinderella: Ali Farokhmanesh.
"UNI kind of paved it for us," Jans said. "A couple years ago they obviously had an unbelievable run in the Sweet Sixteen knocking off a No. 1 seed, something that we did. It's something in the back of my mind, that I was thinking about preparing for Gonzaga, UNI went through it a couple of years ago and were able to overcome that obstacle and why not us?"
The entire nation will have its eyes on the Wichita State wondering if it can live up to its moniker a couple more times.
Jans received a dose of how big his team's story became. Tuesday before practice, he saw a media member walking with a slice of pizza. The man guided Jans to the media room, where the associate head coach hoped to steal a slice. His cat burglary transformed into a crime caught on tape.
"I was in there for about 80, 90 minutes because there was so many media people that grabbed me and wanted to talk," Jans said. "I honestly wasn't trying to be down there. I was trying to get back up to the office to do some work. I just couldn't believe the number of people who were milling around the arena."
Jans even bumped shoulders with former Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly. From his time in Iowa to Wichita, Jans read Reilly's column. To speak with him after the Shockers win against Ohio State brought the reality of the moment to the forefront.
As a kid, Jans read Reilly, interested in what the columnist had to say. Now, Reilly wanted to know Jans' opinion.
"Again I keep using the word surreal or out of body experience," Jans said. "Because at times, it feels like that."
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