Friday, December 17, 2010
The band wagon rolling through Montezuma Mesa is rapidly gathering passengers as the SDSU basketball team experiences success never achieved before.
The Aztecs are off to the best start in school history, with 11 straight wins. That includes victories over Gonzaga and Cal (UC-Berkeley), two basketball programs with stellar reputations nationally.
The Aztecs are ranked No. 10 in the nation in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and number 11 by the Associated Press this week.
Success on the court is translating into fan support.
"The atmosphere we have now for home games is just amazing," said Michael May of the SDSU athletic department. "We've got such great students and faculty here at San Diego State that they've really been engaged with what coach (Steve) Fisher and the team have been building for years."
He said the rest of the community is starting to catch on.
May said the Aztecs have already sold out Viejas Arena three times this year and he is seeing strong interest in tickets for games in February and March.
The sellouts are even more amazing, May said, because the school only sold out a total of eight games since the arena opened in 1997. Viejas Arena seats 12,414 when configured for basketball.
San Diego State's football team sowed the seeds of Aztec interest this fall, with an impressive eight-win season (against four losses). That was good for a berth in next week's Poinsettia Bowl against Navy at Qualcomm Stadium. But the buzz surrounding the basketball team is becoming all but deafening.
Dee Jennings was bundled up against the night chill in her red Aztec gear before a game earlier this week. The El Cajon resident and SDSU alum was confident that a red-hot basketball team would warm the cool December air.
"We love a winning team," said Jennings. And she loves sharing her Aztecs passion with lots of other people on game night. "The crowd just brings great enthusiasm and energy."
Gilbert Fembrus was a student at SDSU 15 years ago. He said those were loyalty-testing years for basketball fans because the team was not very good.
"Now that they're a Top 10 team, regardless if they're playing mediocre teams, people are still coming out," Fembrus said. "It's fun to watch and it's a bargain."
The Aztec basketball team plays UC-Santa Barbara on Saturday. School officials and fans are dreaming of a Mountain West Conference Championship and a successful run during the NCAA tournament in March.