Could that streak be over? Perhaps. Depending on how these next three games play out, we could be looking at the end of basketball's drought. Or we could be looking at yet another bitter disappointment in the annals of Cal athletics. Regardless of what it turns out to be, we still find ourselves, in the here and now, on the brink of breaking our Pac-10 championship futility. Win the conference and, at last, we can have a conference championship banner that we can proudly hang from the rafters of Haas Pavilion
to cover up the NIT championship banner. This is what Sandy Barbour hired Mike Montgomery to do, right? Bring us a basketball team of which we could be proud and, while we're at it, contend for conference supremacy.
Then why oh why have we not filled Haas Pavilion? This is a topic we've covered on CGB in various ways over the last couple of weeks. From ragnarok's pleas for fans to "Bring the Noise," to Twist's photo essay showing empty seats for a wildly entertaining win against Washington State, to Avi's musings about why Cal fans aren't filling Haas Pavilion, to Monty's (desperate?) plea for fans to come out and make things loud and wild. A few days ago, it was suggested in the comments to one of Berkelium's Golden Nuggets posts that Cal basketball just doesn't have the basketball culture that would draw regular sellout crowds.
Not so, I say! Below is an expanded version of a comment I posted in response to the notion that our crowds this season at Haas Pavilion are par for Cal basketball's course.
Cal basketball hasn't always been an easy ticket to get. Back in the mid 1980s when Lou Campanelli took over the Cal program, he created a great deal of enthusiasm for Cal basketball. Lou worked his magic and convinced the students that Harmon
Gym Arena was THE place to be. (Lou didn't like "Gym." "Men play in an arena," he once said.) Whatever he was selling worked. Campanelli's teams, though not great in any of his years coaching at Cal, regularly filled Harmon to the rafters. When I was a freshman and sophomore at Cal, some people camped out overnight to get student season tickets (I was going to say "AP Card," but most of you wouldn’t know what the hell I was talking about). And on the day of a big game, student ticket holders would line up early (the early afternoon for a 7:30 pm tipoff) to get choice student section seats.
Granted, that was Harmon Gym in the days where a sellout crowd was 6,578, significantly less than today's capacity at Haas Pavilion. But we did consistently sell games out in the Campanelli era. And the place was fucking loud. What we now know as "The Bench" was born in those Campanelli years at Harmon
Arena Gym and those students were right on top of the floor. Harmon was a tough place to play.
The Modern Day "Bench" coming alive.
We plodded along under Sweet Lou for a few years. We had NIT berths in 1988 and 1989, and then made the NCAA tournament in 1990 for the first time in 30 years. (We even managed to beat Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers in the first round. Keith Smith, FTW!) Then came the recruiting classes of 1991 (Lamond Murray, Monty Buckley, KJ Roberts, Al Grigsby) and 1992 (Jason Kidd, Jerod Haase). Notwithstanding the controversial firing of Campanelli in the middle of the 1993 season, we made it to the NCAA tournament and upset 2-time defending national champion Duke to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1960. That 1993 tournament run and the stardom of Jason Kidd (already a Bay Area high school legend before playing at Cal) did wonders for the Cal program. Cal basketball was exciting and relevant. There were expectations (albeit largely unrealized). And sold out crowds. LOTS of sold out crowds. Harmon home game after Harmon home game with the same reported attendance: 6,578. And we're not talking some tickets sold number with invisible people: if anything, there were MORE than 6,578 bodies crammed into the joint.
Not only were we selling out Harmon consistently during the mid 1990s, we were also getting large crowds at the Oakland Coliseum. Beginning in the early 1990s, long before Haas was built, the Cal athletic department moved some games to the Oakland Coliseum arena to accommodate the demand for Cal basketball. In fact, two of Cal's most memorable wins in the 1990s were at a sold-out Coliseum -- the 1993 victory against #3 ranked Arizona to keep our NCAA tournament hopes alive and a 1994 win over # 1 ranked Ucla. We had no problem getting 15,000+ for games at the Coliseum and sold out Harmon regularly (if not always). Even after Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray left for the NBA and the Todd Bozeman era gave us mixed results, Cal basketball was exciting, relevant, and a tough ticket for Cal fans.
The excitement generated by the 1990s teams was no doubt instrumental in getting Haas Pavilion built. And even after Bozeman was fired in disgrace, the enthusiasm for Cal basketball endured. Ben Braun did a good job of giving Cal fans instant enthusiasm and optimism. Indeed, the early Ben Braun years were all right: some success on the floor (including the 1997 Sweet 16 appearance
and 1999 NIT championship), some marquee wins (e.g., beating UNC in 1998 at the Oakland Coliseum), and some tremendous players (e.g., Ed Gray, Sean Lampley, Joe Shipp). We drew great at the Oakland Coliseum while Haas was being built. Heck, Cal even made a serious run at the Pac-10 title a couple of times in the Braun era. But as we all know, the program kind of stagnated under Braun. Attendance dropped as Cal basketball didn’t deliver success. (The ultimate embarrassment was Braun’s last home game at Cal: the "crowd" of barely 1,000 at the NIT opening round game vs. New Mexico.)
But before the level of enthusiasm for Cal basketball fell in the late stages of Braun's tenure, Harmon / Haas was a formidable home court advantage. Why? Because the Cal fans were loud and proud.
In last season's 91-62 [win] over UCLA, the Cal fans were so loud that P.A. announcer Ed Kleinhans, a former Mike Man, couldn't hear himself talk. UCLA guard Earl Watson said it was so loud he couldn't hear himself think.
The crowd's catalyst will be The Bench, dressed in their blue T-shirts with the block-letter C, and their maestros, the Mike Men.
They're not hard to find, either, sitting directly across from the opponent's bench. If the rest of the crowd supplies the volume, The Bench supplies the verve.
They greeted Arizona forward Luke Walton - like his father Bill, a Grateful Dead admirer - with fliers of a doctored photo of Luke with a joint in his hand and smoke coming out of his mouth and a caption: ``Like Dad, I'm a rolling stoner.
When UCLA visited two years ago, they greeted the headband-wearing Jason Kapono by donning ones with ``Dork'' written on them. Last season, in the midst of rumors that Rick Pitino would replace Bruins coach Steve Lavin, they held fliers up with Pitino's photo and the caption: ``Hey, Lavin, I've got next.''A Haas of Pain Testimonial in 2003
One can debate whether Haas is as hard on opponents as its predecessor on the same site, compact Harmon Gym. No one debates that Haas remains a hell hole for visitors, perhaps the most difficult home court in the Pac-10.
"Haas may be the toughest," Stanford senior Julius Barnes said, "because of the fans. They are loud and obnoxious."
Recently, Monty has made no secret of the fact that he wants Haas to be full and loud. I see where he’s coming from in wanting the enthusiasm back. Goodness knows he’s used to coming into Harmon/Haas with his Stanfurd teams over the years and having it be loud as fuck. He wants that for his Cal teams. I don’t blame him. I think we all do (and if we don't, we should!).
THE PAC-10 TITLE IS ON THE LINE, CAL FANS! If the students and the Bay Area alumni aren't going to pack and rock the Haas for that, what are they waiting for?!? Cal fans have packed Harmon, the Oakland Coliseum arena, and Haas Pavilion with less than that at stake.
Go to Haas. Be loud. Skin the Wildcats. Douse the Sun Devils. Win the Pac-10. Go Bears!