Caselli: Johnny Dawkins and I want, need you

Several weeks ago, as I was wandering alone in the concourse at halftime during the Wake Forest game, I spotted a familiar face in the crowd. Just feet away from me and headed in my direction was none other than Johnny Dawkins, the Stanford men’s basketball coach.

“Mr. Dawkins!?” I blurted out with the kind of excitement that may or may not have been a result of three hours of pre-game tailgating. “Stanford basketball is my favorite sport!!!”

Now, it wouldn’t be shocking for a man in Dawkins’s shoes–a national collegiate player of the year at Duke, the 10th overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft, an assistant coach under Duke legend Coach K and now, the head coach of Stanford’s storied program–to shrug off a peon student like myself.

But he didn’t. Instead, he responded with genuine appreciation for my words–confirming my image of him as a friendly, down-to-earth kind of guy who I really just want to hug every time the team is struggling–and left me with a parting message: “Come out to the games and bring all of your friends. We need your support.”

My love for Stanford basketball began at a time when it was easy to be a Stanford basketball fan: that magical 2003-2004 season of Josh Childress, the shot, a 17-1 Pac-10 record and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament (followed by a heartbreaking second-round exit to Alabama that I’m still bitter about, but that’s beside the point). The Sixth Man section was consistently jam-packed and notoriously loud, and Stanford students–believe it or not–camped out overnight to get into games.

But since the departure of the brothers Lopez, the Card has fallen on some rough times, and most current undergrads haven’t seen the team in the NIT, much less the Tournament. These days, the Sixth Man is, at best, decently full, and at worst (read: any preseason or Thursday night game), pathetically empty.

However, I am an optimist, and if the athletic department can “sell out” 5,000 (free) student tickets to the USC game this weekend, then surely the glory days of the early 2000s when students bled Stanford basketball (or at least some semblance of that era) are not so far off. And so, I have made it my mission to convince you, my collective friends, why you should come to Stanford basketball games this year. I owe it to Johnny.

Reason 1: Our freshmen are allegedly awesome, and our upperclassmen aren’t too shabby either.

So we’re coming off consecutive ninth-place finishes in the Pac-10 and are predicted to finish this season near the bottom of a relatively weak conference once again. Why should anyone have hope for this season?

Meet the highly touted recruiting class of 2010. The six-man class features two four-star, top-100 players (Dwight Powell and Anthony Brown) in addition to four three-star players (John Gage, Josh Huestis, Stefan Nastic and Aaron Bright). The freshman class has been ranked 15th in the nation by Scout.com and just may be the best in the Pac-10.

Some, like Powell and Brown, will likely see significant minutes this season. And while the 2014ers’ impact may not translate to a drastic turnaround this year, the core of six has all the makings of a Pac-10 contending, Tournament team a couple of years down the road.

As for the veterans, no one is expected to replace the all-around dominance that was Landry Fields last season, but our older guys are far from talentless. Junior Jeremy Green, a Second Team All-Pac-10 selection who averaged 16.6 points per game last season, can shoot as well as anyone–when he’s hot–and has proven himself as an offensive threat against every conference opponent. Classmate Jarrett Mann had moments of glory with well-executed assists (he averaged 4.3 per game last season, second best in the Pac), and redshirt junior Josh Owens, who sat out last season for medical reasons, will hopefully return with the same explosive play that we saw from him two years back.

Reason 2: $35 is cheap.

Until November 15th, students can purchase a Sixth Man membership for the early bird price of $35. With 16 regular season home games, this translates to roughly $2.19 per game. $2.19! The cost of courtside season tickets is the financial equivalent of forgoing one cup of CoHo coffee a day for two weeks.

This is also far cheaper than what students at other schools pay for basketball tickets. At our East Bay counterpart, students have to pay $69 (hehe) for basketball tickets, and up at Washington, a cleverly named “Dawg Pack” gives students access to football and basketball games–for $125. Throw in the copious amounts of free shit that Sixth Man thrusts upon you–a snazzy long-sleeve tee, free food galore, Kanye glasses, Stanford washcloths, etc.–and 35 bucks is a major bargain.

Reason 3: Maples is one of the best college gyms in the country.

Despite its relatively small seating capacity of 7,233, Maples Pavilion has been described as “one of the West’s most notorious pits” and “one of the most difficult arenas in the Pac-10 conference for visiting opponents.”

It only takes a two-minute viewing of the aforementioned Nick Robinson buzzer-beater clip on YouTube to understand why–the full student section is in-your-face loud and the echo of the crowd is deafening. The energy evident in that six-and-a-half-year-old grainy clip still gives me chills, and I wasn’t even there.

There’s not a bad seat in the house, and this is especially true for the students–the Sixth Man section spans from baseline to baseline of the lower section, directly across from both teams’ benches. Not only are Sixth Man members pretty much as close to the game as sports fans can get, students are also in prime heckling location. Though this shit-talking is often overwhelmingly nerdy and free of expletives, students year after year seem to find unmatched delight in getting under the skin of a poorly performing player or simply making fun of the night’s ugly dude (Cal’s Max Zhang is a perennial favorite).

And lastly, I come to Reason 4: Johnny Dawkins personally told me to tell you to come out and support the team.

Isn’t that enough?

Caroline Caselli literally cried after the Alabama game. Reminisce and shed some tears at carolinecaselli “at” stanford.edu.