Though I can’t say this for a fact, I doubt I would need much more than my two hands to count the number of basketball games I have attended at the Galen Center during the past three seasons. I actually tried to go back through old schedules and figure it out, but the problem is that my USC basketball experiences have been unmemorable. In fact, over the last three seasons I could only find four games I could say with certainty that I attended — and three of those were during my freshman year.
I remember walking out of Galen Center after some game last year — can’t remember which, of course — but some game, probably a loss, and thinking to myself, “I’ve never left a USC basketball game and thought, ‘I’m glad I went to that.’”
Strictly speaking, this isn’t true. I distinctly remember USC’s upset of No. 10 Arizona back in the 2010-11 season. For once, Galen’s atmosphere that night actually surpassed that of my high school junior varsity team’s games.
But seriously, “high school” is probably an appropriate comparison to the crowd at Galen the last few years. If you were to close your eyes at a game, it would be pretty difficult to tell that there was a Division I sporting event taking place there. Actually, even with them open, it was pretty difficult to tell that at times — and I’m not just talking about the 6-26 squad in 2011-12.
Remember the “court storming” after the Trojans again upset No. 11 Arizona last year? I put it in quotes because to call it a court storming would be an insult to places where they actually do storm courts. What were there, 15 students out there? It was kind of fun to see, sure. But really it was just embarrassing.
This year, of course, is supposed to be different. There’s a hot new coach to talk about in Andy Enfield. There’s a tangible buzz around the program, freedom from the dark days of former head coach Kevin O’Neill. The two coaches are about as polar opposite as you can get: O’Neill was a fiery, defensive-minded screamer, for lack of a better term. Enfield? All you really need to hear is that his old team was nicknamed “Dunk City.”
In the same way the USC football team seems to be having more fun after the firing of former head coach Lane Kiffin, the basketball team seems freed under Enfield. Their half of the “Trojan Tip-Off,” a public scrimmage played last Sunday, looked like the NBA All-Star Game with the amount of dunks being thrown down (not to mention the absurd lack of defensive effort). They, too, were having fun, something that’s been sorely lacking across Figueroa for some time now.
So yes, the excitement is valid. Coach Enfield is a fun guy. He’s quite the up-and-comer. He went up and down The Row on Monday, popping in at a few Greek chapters trying to drum up support and awareness for basketball season, which you might be surprised to learn tips off in eight days (I know I was, which was sort of his point). He made a couple of drinking references and sort of joked about students coming to games perhaps a little inebriated. People seemed to like it.
But he also asked for suggestions on what would entice them to come to more games. There was a litany of ideas thrown out there: cooler T-shirts, more pizza, better seats. Obviously serving beer was popular. But there was one suggestion that stood out above the rest.
Ultimately, that’s it. Fan support should be above average for the first few home games. It might linger a little longer than usual because of the more exciting and just plain watchable brand of basketball that will be played. But at a certain point, it won’t matter if every point USC scores is off a triple alley-oop reverse dunk. At a certain point, you have to win.
Any good fan — and I assume the program would like good fans — would rather watch a 45-40 win over any given team than a 77-76 loss. Sure, that latter result occasionally might be more fun because of the pure thrill and excitement of a close, high-scoring game. But if that becomes the norm, it won’t matter that the losses are in shootouts as opposed to the grinders of years past.
Enfield already has good support, based in no small part on the fact that he is not Kevin O’Neill and actually encourages his players to dunk. But there is only one way to get the support — especially fan support — he really wants.
And no, it’s not dunking.
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