After seeing the success of the USF football team, USF men’s basketball coach Stan Heath had a vision for the Sun Dome.
“I’m hoping that a lot of our students that were so huge during our football season and the enthusiasm they brought will kind of venture in and not wait to see how we do,” Heath said at a press conference Jan. 8.
Coach Heath, you got what you wanted. The student body did come in a huge crowd Wednesday night against nationally ranked Pittsburgh.
Despite the Bulls’ having the lead only once all game (11-10 early in the first half), a season-high crowd of 6,027 was loud and energetic, helping the Bulls stay in the game for most of the night.
“I thought we had a much better turnout and I thought the kids and fans were into it,” Heath said. “I was pleased – I think we are making progress there. I think we’ll see more and more people come out with some of the teams coming in here that they get a chance to see.”
Those teams include Louisville, Syracuse, Connecticut and Notre Dame. The Huskies travel well, and two seasons ago when they came into the Sun Dome, their fans were arguably louder than the home crowd.
Senior center Kentrell Gransberry has already noticed a difference in the atmosphere at the Sun Dome this season.
“(It was) just energetic and there were a lot of people out there tonight,” Gransberry said after the loss to Pittsburgh. “I thank the fans for coming out and supporting us.”
The USF student body’s support for the athletic teams has been continuously growing – and rightfully so.
There was a buzz about Jim Leavitt and the football team before the season started, and the team lived up to – maybe even surpassed – expectations.
The students showed their support for the football team throughout the season, which was highlighted when many students camped outside the Sun Dome to be the first to get tickets for the West Virginia game.
While the buzz may not be as strong for the basketball team as it was for the football team, it is certainly heading in the right direction.
I hope fans will not be deterred from continuing to attend the games because of the loss against Pittsburgh. The Panthers are a nationally ranked team, and the Bulls showed heart and determination by never giving up.
The Big East preseason poll had the Bulls finishing last in the conference, and I cannot say that I disagreed with that then. However, I would disagree now.
There is something different about this year’s team, and with the student support Wednesday, I think I am not the only one who feels that way.
We’ve all heard how important home field advantage can be to a team, and for the USF basketball team it is no different.
The team has five wins against Big East opponents since joining the conference in 2005. All of them are at the Sun Dome.
The Bulls have also defeated a nationally ranked team in each of the past two seasons, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it again this year.
Coach Heath, Gransberry and the rest of the Bulls’ basketball team deserve the support of the student body and the residents of Tampa.
Leavitt and his football team got the respect and support they deserved. Now, let’s make sure Heath and his basketball team receive that same level of respect and support.