During fall quarter, I went to Stanford basketball’s season opener against Wofford at Maples Pavilion. I was probably one of around 30 or 40 people in the student section, with the majority of the student turnout comprising of what looked like graduate students.
A month later, in the frozen tundra of Minneapolis, I made my way over to Williams Arena to watch my hometown Gophers taken on Furman — an even less meaningful opponent than Wofford, which at least played its way into March Madness last season. Boy, was I surprised when I walked into the arena: Despite the fact that it was Dec. 22 (deep into winter break) and around 10 degrees outside, the arena was chock full — as was the student section.
Having gone to two years’ worth of Stanford basketball games, it was just such a bizarre sight and experience seeing this turnout and atmosphere for Furman when Stanford couldn’t even do the same for Arizona last season.
I may be speaking too soon given the massive turnouts from students and outside supporters alike for the Washington and UConn games after break, but now, more than it ever in my time at Stanford, it’s important that we keep this momentum going.
Stanford is 8-0 at home this season despite what’s probably the weakest home-court advantage in the Pac-12. Maples is, by far, the smallest basketball arena in the conference with its capacity of 7,233 (Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum, with its 9,604 seats, is the only other one that holds fewer than 10,000 fans). And it would just be a lie to say that Maples, especially the student section, is more than, say, 60 percent full for most home games, if even that.
And that lack of home-court advantage is completely the fault of us, the fans. The team and the program does quite literally everything it can to get people to come out — from free t-shirt giveaways to, you know, making the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season — but outside of the Washington and UConn games, the support of the sixth man just hasn’t been there.
That’s got to be eating at head coach Johnny Dawkins. And I know it does. I’ve never seen a man care more about a program than Dawkins does about Stanford basketball. He quite literally buys out the entire student section for every home game every year so that we, the sixth man, don’t feel the financial burden of attending a D-I college basketball game. He goes out of his way to make sure to thank the fans in his postgame interviews when they show up and help spur the team to victory.
I honestly don’t care that his early Stanford teams were perceived to have underachieved — he is the kind of leader that I want to see at the helm of Stanford basketball, and I honestly feel terrible that no matter what he does, he’s faced with growing ambivalence and a hearty “meh” from a student body that seemingly shows up more to see marquee opponents than its own team.
Stanford used to be a basketball school. Back in the glory days of the late 1990s and the early 2000s, deep runs into March Madness were the expectation, not the anomaly. But how are today’s teams supposed to perform like that when their fans frankly don’t seem to care? We’re called the sixth man for a reason — wins and losses, we’re part of the Stanford team and we’re supposed to go through the highs and the lows with the team.
We need to fix this, but at an academics-centric campus like this, things like this with sports come slowly. So I beg you, the Stanford fan: Even if you weren’t there last year or won’t be there next year, be there for this team this year.
This is probably the best shot Stanford has had in a very long time to win the Pac-12 and make a deep, deep run into March. The Cardinal are currently tied for first in the conference, and we, the sixth man, need to make damn sure that it stays that way when Arizona comes to town tomorrow. And win or lose, we need to see this sucker through to the finish and be behind this team through anything on this long journey through Pac-12 play — because we, the sixth man, really do matter.
I see Stefan Nastic in the dining hall around three or four times a week (I mean, given his size, it’s pretty hard not to). He’s a Stanford student, just like the rest of us — as are the others in the rotation and on the bench. And Stanford students support each other and stick together. When your friends do some good research or direct a play, you go and support them at their symposia and showings; why not do the same for our peers that dedicate that same (probably more, to be honest) effort to basketball?
This team is talented enough to go a long, long way this year, and we can’t say, “we did it” or “we made it” after a win or a tournament run if “we” weren’t actually with the team the whole way.
So be there on Thursday — and beyond. We, the sixth man, need to defend our turf and crown our team champions.
Do-Hyoung Park feels that every sporting event at Stanford should be well attended and has made it his goal to write about every sport on campus at least once. Ask him about his progress and what it’s like to cover wrestling, tennis, swim and dive and baseball in the same breath at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.