Nov. 13, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
There you see Georgia Tech basketball players high-fiving students after they finished whipping Tulane last Friday in the debut of McCamish Pavilion. It wasn’t a pre-determined thing, but an outgrowth of player sentiment. It was a physical acknowledgment of something felt. It was a shared appreciation rare of late.
Udofia, the lone senior among Yellow Jackets, felt it most deeply. That’s why head coach Brian Gregory said something interesting Tuesday when asked to look back on the effect of the sold-out crowd against Tulane. Gregory said about what you’d expect, and then mentioned something about Udofia not kidding when he said he got emotional.
That warranted tracking down Udofia.
He was in a hurry so as not to be late to practice, but took a moment to confirm.
Turns out he was more than emotional. The young man was genuinely moved. Tech’s student support in recent years waned to dreadful levels. Udofia’s seen it, and hated it.
He loved what he saw Friday night.
If Gregory and the Jackets are going to make good on their push to bring “the buzz” back to this program, as former head coach Bobby Cremins implored fans to do when he took the microphone at halftime, it’ll start with students. They have more energy and they’re less likely to reserve it – provided the Jackets give them ample reason.
All criteria were met Friday, and the post-game interaction with student fans felt like the right thing to do, Udofia said. Students were, after all, lined up a couple hundred yards deep outside McCamish well over an hour before game time.
“Before the game in the layup line, Daniel [Miller] was like, ‘Wow! We got fans here an hour before the game, rushing to get down to the student section,’ ” Mfon said. “Right before the game, when they called the names out and it was about to be jump ball . . . I was kind of tearing up a little bit.
“It was a packed house, and it’s my senior season and just to see those people in the stands was a great feeling.”
With no home court last season as McCamish was being built, and two generally dreadful seasons before that, Udofia’s seen the other. There were games where attendance numbers didn’t match butts in the seats, and student attendance at many games – especially non-conference tilts against lesser opponents – was startlingly poor.
Those folks are much like graduates and older fans, however, in that they’re looking for a reason to pledge their fandom. That need not always be quantified by wins. Tech is a bunch of smart people. The students can see commitment. They note effort. They sense intelligence and design.
These Jackets have more of all of the above, and more talent, too.
They have a home again as well, and there are seeds here that may grow into something again special, something not seen too often for quite some time.
When the Jackets play Presbyterian tonight in McCamish Pavilion, Udofia looks forward to more of the same, not that he’s expecting another sellout with the Blue Hose calling on a week night.
Just give him and his teammates that passion from their peers, though, and chances are you’ll see the high-fiving again.
“It was directed to the students because they’re our classmates. We see them every single day when we go to class, and we speak to them,” Udofia said. “For them to come cheer us on . . . it was just an unbelievable feeling. I can’t really describe it.
“It was real big just to have home court, to know you have a home-court advantage and you have people in the stands cheering for you. Since I’ve been here, that’s the most students I’ve seen come to a game.”
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