Ferris State’s players arrived at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids shortly after noon Sunday, blurry-eyed but basking in the glory of being national champions.
The Bulldogs then hopped in a bus for the hour trip to campus, in Big Rapids, accompanied by a police escort.
“We got clout,” junior center Zach Hankins said, with a laugh, over the phone.
Ferris State beat Northern State (S.D.), 71-69, on Saturday to cap a historic season with the Division II men’s basketball championship.
So, what’s next?
Well, they were to be met at campus by a pep rally Sunday afternoon. Then there’ll probably be some sleep, which, in a refreshing moment of candor from a college kid, was in short supply Saturday night.
“We had a little reception with family and friends and supporters at the hotel,” said Hankins, “then I’m not sure I’m at liberty to say beyond that.”
And as for Hankins, himself, he travels to San Antonio at the end of the week, where he’ll be honored as the Division II player of the year.
Then there’s a most-pressing question: What will coach Andy Bronkema do with that bushy beard that, during the Bulldogs’ run in Sioux Falls, S.D., became a Twitter sensation?
“Well, I think I’ve gotta keep it for a week,” Bronkema said. “I’m heading to the Final Four to see Zach get his award. A few people saw us on TV. If I shave it, nobody will recognize me.”
Bronkema, 34, has been growing the beard every year for the last few.
At season’s end, he shaved it — stopping occasionally throughout the trim to snap some funny pictures and text them to his players.
Of course, those past seasons ended with a loss in the NCAA Tournament, while this season ended with a blizzard of confetti at the Sanford Pentagon, 13 hours from home.
“I’m not sure what he’s gonna do now,” Hankins said. “He might have to keep it. It might be a two-foot beard next year.
“On a scale of one to 10, that beard is like an 11.”
There’s no great story behind the beard, other than he buys special shampoo for it. There’s no sentimental meaning — unlike Lions coach Matt Patricia, who said his beard with the New England Patriots was to pay tribute to his friends in the military.
Bronkema, well, he just does it to do it, or ...
“Just so I can talk about it with you and anybody else,” he said Sunday afternoon, while driving with his family to see his in-laws in Memphis. “It’s fun.”
What really would’ve been fun, Hankins agreed, was to use those same scissors that cut down the nets Saturday to trim up Bronkema’s grill.
No dice, though. It remains, for at least another week.
And who knows, maybe beyond that.
“Dare me. Dare me,” Bronkema said. “Most of us basketball coaches are clean-cut, shaving every morning. There are a lot of bald heads out there. I’m the opposite.”
He’s also different than so many of those coaches, in that he’s a national champion. Michigan could join Ferris State in the glory fraternity next week in San Antonio.
Ferris State, basketball insiders saw it coming a little while back. Michigan, not so much.
In fact, it was another team from the state, Michigan State, that got all the hype for so much of the season. Interestingly, Ferris State played Michigan State in an exhibition game in October, and hung around before losing, 80-72.
Who would’ve thought, the eventual national champion on the Breslin Center court that day would be wearing crimson and gold and not green and white?
“It would’ve been a tough call,” Hankins said. “I would’ve had a lot of confidence in us, but then I would’ve looked at Miles Bridges and been like, ‘Damn!.’ ”
And what say you, Coach?
“I taught him to be politically correct,” Bronkema said of Hankins, the 6-foot-10, 255-pound giant from Charlevoix. “I coach for Ferris, so all my money’s on Ferris.”
FERRIS STATE YEAR IN REVIEW
Record: 38-1 (22-0 at home, 19-1 in GLIAC).
Only loss: at Lake Superior State, 79-74, on Dec. 16. It won back-to-back overtime games at Ashland and Michigan Tech in mid-February.
Streaking: Ferris State closed the season with 26 consecutive victories.
History makers: Ferris State became the first team from Michigan to win the Division II championship, and just the second GLIAC team to win it (Findlay, 2009). The Bulldogs also tied the NCAA record for wins in a season (Winona State, 2008).
Stat leaders: Points — Zach Hankins 15.1, Drew Cushingbery 13.8, Noah King 11.8. Rebounds — Hankins 9.7, Markese Mayfield 6.3. Assists — Cushingberry 5.5.
Meet the coach: Andy Bronkema, hired in 2013, just completed his fifth season. He was an All-America player at Cornerstone University, after a prep career at McBain. He was a Ferris State assistant for six seasons before becoming head coach.