Late February is typically the time when basketball fever reaches a high on college campuses, but in Columbia, S.C. enthusiasm has been replaced by apathy.
The fact is this: the basketball program is hurting. Attendance is putrid, as is the Gamecock’s SEC record. Most fans are choosing to turn their attention to the - very much deserving - baseball team rather than endure one of the most difficult season in South Carolina basketball history.
So what will it take to turn everything around? What actions need to be taken in order to put fans back into seats? What can happen to bring enthusiasm back to the Colonial Life Arena?
It’s already there; you just aren’t looking in the right place.
Dawn Staley and her group of “street fighters” - as they have been lovingly nicknamed for their tough style of defense – just had attendance figures of over 6,000 fans for the recent home game against Florida.
That tells me something; South Carolina is starving for good basketball.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about it; how we just “aren’t a basketball school”. How we are in a state that produces limited talent. How we can’t compete with the traditional powers because the interest and enthusiasm about basketball just isn’t there.
I disagree with that.
What would it take to bring basketball fever to Columbia? Simple…give us three seasons of success. Give us three seasons where the team shows steady improvement and makes the NCAA Tournament by the third season. Give us three progressive years and basketball will be engrained into the hearts of Gamecock fans.
It doesn’t have to be a National Championship. It doesn’t even have to be an SEC Championship. It just has to be three seasons full of excitement and reasons for parents to bring their children to see the team play.
What brings fans isn’t just a winning team; it’s having an event that builds fond memories. It’s last second buzzer-beaters, it’s blocked shots, it’s an alley-oop that sends the place into a craze.
Things like that have become a rarity in Columbia that people have forgotten what it is like to be excited when traveling to a basketball game. Thus they have stopped traveling at all.
He did exactly what needed to be done in season one.
It was in his second season – a time when he needed to take the spark he created and feed it - that the problems started coming. The Gamecocks opened and showed a lot of promise when making it to the Charleston Classic championship game against Miami. Then Dominique Archie went down and from that moment until now – with a few sparse bright spots in between - it was a downhill spiral.
It doesn’t have to continue this way though, and I don’t believe it will. Gamecock Nation has fans that are die-hard and the baseball and football teams have shown that in Columbia, anything is possible.
It is possible to have a winning basketball team.
It is possible to be a football, baseball, AND basketball school.
It is possible to pack out the Colonial Life Arena. To have it brimming with so much enthusiasm that recruits can’t help but feel like this is the place they want to be. It is possible to have a program that people want to support.
I don’t know if Darrin Horn is the guy to lead us down that path. I don’t know if the current roster of players think they are capable. I don’t know what is going to happen.
I just know what can happen.
Picture the day when every restaurant in Columbia is packed in March to watch the Gamecocks take on their first opponent in the NCAA Tournament. Can you feel the excitement? Can you picture the scene? Can you imagine the joy?
All it will take is two building years, followed by a third great one and the love for basketball will be deeply etched into the hearts of Gamecock fans both young and old forever. South Carolina basketball can be something to talk about again; it just needs to be allowed to grow.
“Everyone gets knocked down, the question is: Will you get back up?” - Unknown