Mark Washburn

In Charlotte, blessed are the holy hoops of spring

Michigan State fans Kristen Greenwald, her husband, Eric, and their 10-month-old son, Kenton, who live in Huntersville, watch the team practice Thursday during the Charlotte NCAA shootaround at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Michigan State fans Kristen Greenwald, her husband, Eric, and their 10-month-old son, Kenton, who live in Huntersville, watch the team practice Thursday during the Charlotte NCAA shootaround at Time Warner Cable Arena. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Those who say that college basketball is like a religion are to be forgiven for engaging in drastic understatement.

With religion, you can invest an hour a week and look devout.

No, college basketball is more like a cult. It consumes its followers. It demands all. It shapes your most intimate relationships.

Come. Let me show you.

Thursday was the first of the high holy days here. With heads of the faithful bowed in solemn unison, the brackets were writ. Dietary sacraments were stored; sacred garments were donned.

In Time Warner Cable Arena, 40 minutes were allotted for teams in Friday’s Charlotte action to get the feel of the court. Adherents gathered, hundreds of them, to see the short practice.

None watched with more focus than Kenton Greenwald. Wearing a Michigan State University shirt, he followed the Spartans’ workout with laserlike intensity.

He brought along his parents, Kristen and Eric Greenwald, who have tickets to this weekend’s game. They grew up in Michigan and are big-time Michigan State fans, though they both went to other colleges. They moved to Huntersville seven years ago for work and enjoy Midwestern winters from afar.

Kenton is a full-ride basketball prospect for the Spartans. He’s at the top of his percentile for height and still has lots of room to grow. Because he is 10 months old.

Mom: “So we’re hoping for a scholarship offer.”

Dad: “He’s definitely not going to UNC or Duke.”

Mom: “Let’s not close any doors.”

Wearing Bulldog red

Dennis Purdy grew up in New York, studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and obediently wore Georgia red at the Bulldogs’ practice Thursday.

“He was going to have to become a Georgia fan to marry me,” said Jill Purdy, class of 1982. “He got baptized.”

A mixed marriage, but it worked out. This September, they’ll celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.

Missing in action

Two freshmen were missing at Eastside High School in Greenville, S.C., on Thursday. Evan Bearden and Creighton Wilson, both 15, had cut school and come to watch practice at the arena with Wilson’s father.

Both boys are avid sports fans and both play for their school football team, the Eagles. They may have been playing hooky, but they spent their day in analytical mode, weighing team behavior against the odds of making it through the weekend.

“I like to see the different seeds and the mindsets they display,” Creighton said.

“You get to see the different game plans,” Evan said.

Michigan State, Duke and Virginia are their choices for the weekend. Pro handicappers agree.

A shot for the town

Some teams, like Georgia and Virginia, bring lots of pilgrims. Others, like Belmont and San Diego, move in more solitary ways. Either way, Charlotte has room at the inns. Pricey rooms, that is.

At the charming Dunhill on North Tryon, you could reserve a room for Friday night at $249; at the swanky Westin the best rate was $255.

Occupancy rates won’t be known until after the weekend, said Sid Smith, executive director of the Charlotte Area Hotel Association. But the hospitality industry is thrilled for playoffs to be here for the first time since 2011.

“It is a great event to have in the city over a Thursday-Friday-Saturday time frame outside the business traveler days in cold, rainy March,” Smith said.

And another round

Basketball fans do not live by bread alone. There’s also beer and wings.

Around 2:30 p.m. Thursday, there were 15 tables still occupied at the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant at uptown’s EpiCentre, and the tenants of 11 of them were gaping zombielike at the final seconds of Notre Dame vs. Northeastern, a squeaker the Irish would win.

Devontae White, the seating host, said it was a pretty big crowd for a Thursday afternoon.

“Most of them probably should have been back at work an hour ago,” he said.

One hour is religion, Devontae. Unto you has come a cult.

Washburn: 704-358-5007;

Twitter: @WashburnChObs.

Friday’s Charlotte lineup

12:40 p.m. – Michigan State vs. Georgia

3:10 p.m. – Virginia vs. Belmont

7:10 p.m. – Duke vs. Robert Morris

9:40 p.m. – San Diego State vs. St. John’s

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