Derek Mac Arthur didn’t miss a USC men’s basketball game at the Galen Center all season. No matter how ugly it got. No matter how unwatchable the Trojans appeared at times.
And believe me, on Saturday, they were again borderline unwatchable — it’s worth noting they scored 14 first-half points in a 43-38 loss to Washington State.
Fourteen-year-old Derek, perhaps more commonly known to USC fans as “Disco Derek” for his popular dance, hasn’t missed a game since Feb. 21, 2009 — for a friend’s birthday party. His current streak spans 51 games over three years.
Since the Galen Center opened in 2006, he’s attended nearly every game — missing just two, often making what can be a 90-minute trek from Riverside to USC.
“It’s just always fun to come out and watch a basketball game,” says Derek, who routinely sports a Trojan Fever T-shirt, a baseball cap and a pair of gold-trimmed sunglasses.
Most fans, however, didn’t exactly find the 2012 season all that fun. USC averaged 3,970 fans per game — the lowest in the arena’s six-year history.
And over 17 home games, Derek only saw the Trojans win a handful of times — four to be exact.
“This was a rebuilding year,” he says. “I always have to think next year will be better — just shake it off.”
Call it optimism. Call it loyalty. Or perhaps, call it routine fanaticism.
Derek’s father, Chris, graduated from USC in 1981. His grandfather, M. Hebbard, graduated in 1940. And his family has had season tickets for men’s basketball for the last six seasons.
Oh, don’t fret; They go to football games, too.
But Derek has made his mark on the court, so to speak, celebrated and cheered for a second-half disco dance that dates, by his estimations, to 2006.
The dance originated during a Domino’s Pizza giveaway, he says. The popular chain was passing out pizzas to excited fans at games, and Derek, along with his older brother, often got up and danced in the hope of receiving a slice.
But Derek — more than 100 games later -— hasn’t stopped.
He danced during the Tim Floyd years. He danced throughout the Trojans’ 19-win season last winter. He danced this year, too, in spite of the Trojans’ worst regular season in team history with 25 losses.
The losing didn’t exactly faze him.
“It would be easy not to support us,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said following Saturday’s game. “It’d be easy not to even watch us.”
That’s probably an understatement.
Though the third-year coach’s comments were primarily directed toward the fanbase at large, he’s taken notice of Mac Arthur before.
Last year, O’Neill and the rest of his players presented Derek with a signed basketball in the moments before the team’s final home game against Arizona State.
“I was sitting here [in my seat], eating popcorn and looking at my phone,” Derek recalls. “My mom tapped me on the shoulder, I looked up and it was me on the video board.”
He walked down a few rows onto the court to meet the team.
The ball, which reads “Fight On,” commemorates him as the Trojans’ fan of the year for the 2010-2011 season — they didn’t give out such an award for 2011-2012.
“I just thought it’d be for a big donor or something,” he says.
All along, he’s been a fixture at home games, his face and his dance often played on the video board during various points of the games with public address announcer Petros Papadakis introducing him to everyone in the vicinity.
Occasionally, he’ll flash a thumbs-up toward the student section, which gave him his nickname, or he’ll throw two fingers in the air to say “Fight On” to nearby fans and passersby.
Most frequently he discos — which is how most people have come to recognize the eighth-grade diehard who sits in section 116, row eight, seat three.
It might not be total celebrity status, but it’s close enough for now.
“We used to leave games by walking in front of the student section,” Derek says. “One time, someone just asked, ‘Can I take a picture with you?’
“It was pretty cool.”
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