In years past, ASU men’s basketball has not been recognized as an elite level program, but an undefeated non-conference stretch quickly changed that. Wins against Xavier University and the University of Kansas berthed a No. 3 ranking, and has since altered the landscape for Sun Devil fans.
“Even beating Kansas at a neutral site wouldn’t have quite meant as much,” ASU alumnus Robin Stanton said. “But, going into their home court, early start, 99 percent of the fans in the arena rooting for the Jayhawks … that’s gotta be one of the five bests wins in the history of the program.”
Just days after the team’s 10-point victory over one of the country’s powerhouse schools, Stanton and a group of ASU supporters launched a GoFundMe in hopes to keep head coach Bobby Hurley at the helm of the success in Tempe.
“The discussion started because everyone was starting to get nervous that we might lose Bobby Hurley to another school,” Stanton said. “Apart from paying him more money, the number one way to keep him is to keep the arena full, because I would think if anything would be to drive him away from staying at ASU long-term, it would be playing games in front of a half-empty arena.”
With the idea spawning through a SunDevilSource discussion board, fans have raised over $2,600, which bought “15 games worth of tickets in total.”
Before every game, the tickets are given away based off an honor system via the discussion board, but within 10 to 15 minutes, they are gone.
It is hard to prove just one win spurred a flock of fans to fill Wells Fargo Arena. A dozen non-conference victories and a packed home court against back-to-back weak opponents during winter break was the incentive the athletic department needed to create more space for fans.
“We came back from holiday break and I was looking at the inventory, and there was no inventory for the most part for fans for Pac-12 games,” Senior Associate Athletic Director Dave Cohen said. “The opportunity to allow up to 4,000 more fans to watch this tremendous product is really what drove the decision.”
Even as the Sun Devils struggle through conference play, fans have not wavered. After the team dropped two of its first three Pac-12 games, the newly dubbed “Bank”, or Wells Fargo Arena, occupied crowds of over 13,400.
The 13,000-plus crowd that made an appearance during the Oregon schools’ stretch is the largest crowd since the 2009-10 season (13,966).
“We’re a basketball school now,” Cohen said. “It’s a testament to what Bobby has done … and Bobby has lived up to every single expectation of what we were looking for in a new coach."
The question lingered if fans would continue to show their support at the games since the team has split in each of its last four weeks – most recently after a heartbreaking overtime loss to Utah.
Two days later, 13,943 people showed up to put that question to rest.
“It’s been outstanding,” Hurley said after ASU’s win over Colorado. “It’s been consistent, and it was very impactful tonight. In the second half, when we got rolling and we were hitting our shots and stopping them, it seems like it just got louder and louder. It was a great atmosphere to be a part of.”
A fair portion of the crowd was sporting the newest selling point for ASU basketball: “Guard U” T-shirts.
“We were having a celebratory dinner in Las Vegas,” Cohen said. “Bobby is one of the most celebrated point guards ever, (associate head coach) Rashon (Burno) was a point guard himself and played at DePaul. We clearly have four of the best guards in the conference, maybe the country. So Bobby made a comment that just said ‘hey, we’re kinda like Guard U’, and I said ‘okay, that’s a t-shirt,' that’s a branding."
As the team sits at 16 wins with a little over a month until the March Madness Tournament, the defining game as far as fan commitment is chalked up for Feb. 15.
The Wildcats come to town and will likely be featuring a top-10 ranking. To make it all the more enticing, ASU already announced the game is sold out.
This season’s round two of the rivalry will be the indicator if this team is ready to be back in the spotlight.
“Success just breeds more issues, and they’re all good issues,” Cohen said. “Never in my dreams did I think that we would be sitting here and having a capacity of 14,000. The best part about it, and the thing that’s probably most pleasing: it’s organic. It’s a testament to the team and to the people in Scottsdale and Phoenix that are around here and want to come watch these guys play."