Special Place

by Billy Weaver

"What a special place." That was the response by ECU head basketball coach Ricky Stokes following Wednesday night's 10 point loss at home to the fifth ranked Memphis Tigers. It was the first time the first year Pirate head coach actually got a feel of what Pirate basketball can become.

During his post game press conference after the UNC Wilmington game, coach Stokes raved about the Pirate fan base and how impressed he was that an announced 4,709 fans showed up to Minges Coliseum on New Year's Eve. And that was without the pep band and Pure Gold Dancers. I remember thinking to myself, just wait until you see the atmosphere when Memphis comes to town.

Even I was a little surprised when a sellout crowd of 7,553 packed Minges Coliseum on a weeknight. I can only imagine what was really going through the minds of guys like Stokes, Jeremy Ingram (also his first real taste of Minges Madness) and Courtney Captain to name a few. With that said, no one on the ECU bench looked intimidated or in awe of the opponent or their surroundings.

Big time Division One basketball in Greenville can happen! Anyone at the game on Wednesday can attest to that. But here's the problem... getting that same intense crowd to show up night after night. Yes, even when we're playing the Limestones and Saint Paul's of the world.

Unfortunately Ricky Stokes will soon find himself in the catch 22 that every other coach before him has stumbled into. The way to get sellout crowds at Minges Coliseum night after night is by winning. The key to winning (at least at home) is getting the crowd behind the players who without a doubt feed off the intensity of the fans.

Minges Coliseum has the potential to be the next Cameron Indoor Stadium. I already see many of you shaking your heads... but hear me out. The two venues are very similar, relatively small compared to many of the venues around the Division One landscape. Cameron Indoor Stadium seats 9,314 while Minges Coliseum holds nearly 8,000. What makes both places hostile environments is the fact that the fans seem to be right on top of the opponent and at times the noise level is unbearable. The biggest difference between the two venues has nothing to do with winning, it has everything to do with consistency.

An announced crowd of 4,286 fans watched ECU play North Carolina Central and to be honest there may have actually been only three thousand fans in the stands. Duke played the same North Carolina Central team in an exhibition game at Cameron Indoor Stadium this season and the game drew a capacity crowd of 9,314. It may be comparing apples to oranges but you get the idea.

The bottom line is that ECU basketball will rise to a level of national prominence when the fans decide that every game is the biggest game of the season. When that little purple and gold ticket becomes a hot commodity.

Billy Weaver