South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin showed how important Gamecocks fan support is to him.
After starting his Saturday early in Florida recruiting, he made it back in time for the Tip-Off Tailgate at the Colonial Life Arena to tip off the college basketball season.
The men and woman’s teams were introduced to a crowd of nearly 3,200 fans that included 2,225 students. There was a 3-point shooting contest along with scrimmages by both teams.
“It’s awesome,” Martin said. “We had (2,225) students in here. That’s what it’s all about. This is for the fans tonight. It allows our fans and players to enjoy the moment. We’re on our players hard to do things a certain way and compete and take ownership. They’re trying, but they have to enjoy the moment when they get in front of our fans. They have to have fun.”
Women’s coach Dawn Staley was just as appreciative of the fans who showed up an hour before the football team kicked off at Missouri. As basketball players signed autographs, the football game played of the large video board above the court.
“It was pretty neat,” Staley said. “It was good to see so many students in the stands, and we have our faithful that comes out each and every day. It’s a prelude to what’s to be expected. Our team was pretty excited with all the dunking that was going on with the guys.”
The school also released the official name of the student section — The Roost.
The ones in that section held large cutout heads of Martin and Michael Carrera, among others, and had an opportunity to take part in activities for prizes.
Amanda Rhodes, a USC student, enjoyed the atmosphere and plans on coming to as many basketball games as she can.
“During the season, you really don’t get to interact with the teams, so this was a good experience,” she said. “I hope they continue to do things like this.”
Both teams begin the season in less than a week. The women will see the court first when they host North Greenville in an exhibition next Friday. The men follow with an exhibition against USC Aiken on Sunday. Both games are at home.
Martin introduced a plan to the students who attended on Saturday. They are eligible to win a bus trip to the road game at Tennessee on Feb. 8 if they attend 10 of 13 basketball events before that date. They will receive a free bus ride, tickets and food for the game in Knoxville.
“We can’t just have the students give, give and give,” Martin said. “We have to give back to them. We’re going to find the way to reward the kids that come out and support us.”
The first 2,000 fans received T-shirts and foodBoth teams have passed the number of season tickets sold last season.
Tina Roy got the program rolling by defeating Brenton Williams in the finals of the 3-point shooting contest. The USC women then staged a 10-minute scrimmage against the practice squad that consisted of USC male students. The men split into teams of six and scrimmaged for 15 minutes with Carrera and freshman Sindarius Thornwell stealing the show with several dunks and high-flying plays.
The excitement generated with the tip-off event was applauded by both coaches. They enjoyed being able to hold a joint event to highlight the two squads.
“Dawn is a championship player and coach,” Martin said. “I love to be around people like that. We learn from each other. I go to her practices, and she comes to our practices. It’s great to be able to share this moment with her and her team.”
Staley echoed those thoughts.
“Frank and I are trying to get our teams to the point that it’s something the people want to see,” Staley said. “I think there is a buzz around the city that people want to see us play.”