College kids storming the floor after a huge win (”huge” being relative at different universities) has become as much a part of campus life as homecoming. Hey, why not? Coaches and athletics administrators implore students to attend games and be loud! “We especially need help tonight against our rivals, State U, who’s #1 in our league/in the country.”
So they follow orders, support the players and, often, really make a difference. Maybe a little one but in a close game, all the squad needs is a point or two. Maybe the team gets a bucket because of a hustle play by a player not known for going all-out. Or maybe one of their guys shortarms, better yet, airballs a free throw into a crowd of waving, screaming, stomping students.
The game progresses and as the scoreboard hits 0:00 with the home team - the major underdog - ahead! For all their hard work and sweat, the players celebrate on the court. Why would anyone expect the students to act any differently? Let them loose! Where the professional game and the college game differ is the players are being mobbed by their classmates.
Naturally, the problem is for the safety of the group of visitors. Mike Krzyzewski (whose team has been on the receiving end of more floor rushes than anyone else) has expressed concern for his players’ safety. One idea is to, in the waning seconds, escort the losing club and have security make sure the remaining players on the floor get off safely. In the past this hasn’t been an issue. Like in the past boarding an airplane wasn’t an issue.
Just as a very small number of people seem to have ruined it for the overwhelming majority, we now have issues at basketball games. These “sore winners” feel it necessary to verbally abuse the visitors at exactly a time that all they want to do is get into their locker room with their own people. Of course, there’s a chance tempers would flare and the situation escalate. Or the perpetrator, perhaps fortified with liquid courage and feeling the “strength in numbers” behind him, might just act beyond foolish and cause an incident. Even if Mike’s proposal to guard the visiting team were put into effect, there would be no accounting for the game in which the outcome was decided by a last second shot - a make by the home squad or a miss by the favored visitors.
I’ve been involved with quite a few such “storming the Bastille” situations - on both sides. At Fresno State we beat Tulsa in the finals of the WAC tournament (which was held on Fresno State’s home floor) to punch our dance card to the NCAAs. At that time, Bill Self’s team had lost four games - three of them to us, this one by the largest margin - three. During the regular season, we’d won at Tulsa by one and in Fresno by two. Terrence Roberson hit his only three-pointer of the game on our last possession with the score tied, we got a stop and . . . batten down the hatches! After addressing our guys in the locker room, Jerry Tarkanian went into theirs (the only time he ever entered an opponent’s locker room after a game) and said, “I only wish I could get our guys to play as hard as you guys do.” He capped off the tribute with his trademark, “You’re the best.”
One year I was an assistant at USC, we had a magical run, finishing in the top 10 in the nation. In the (then) Pac-10, we’d beaten UCLA both times and entered the final game (this was prior to a Pac-10 conference tournament) 14-3 in league play. The Bruins were 15-2, meaning we’d gotten no help from anybody. In order to win the championship, we needed to beat Arizona at home and then watch and hope Arizona State could defeat UCLA later that day.
We were down by one with seconds to play and ran a play for Harold Miner, our All-American. Of course, the Wildcats weren’t going to let him score. They doubled him, leaving our point guard open. He took a 15-footer - and missed. Our do-it-all combo guard, Rodney Chatman, picked up the rebound on the baseline about eight feet from the basket. Because there was so little time, he simply flipped the ball at the basket. Later (no replays for referees back then), ESPN’s cameras showed the ball had left the tips of his fingers with 0:00.1 tick left. Good basket. Game over. Trojans win.
Our head coach, George Raveling, didn’t wait for the students to storm the floor. He sprinted across the floor and dove into the student section! UCLA beat ASU a couple hours later to dampen our parade but I’ll never forget George’s - and the students’ - reactions.
About three weeks prior to that thriller, we traveled to Pullman, our (George’s and my) old stompin’ grounds, he being the head coach there for 11 years and me being a graduate assistant and earning my master’s from Washington State. We were neck-and-neck with UCLA for first place in the league. WSU shot the lights out and beat us. And their student body stormed the floor. As we headed back to the locker room, George turned to me and said:
“I can’t believe it, Jack. A team storming the court after beating USC in basketball. We’ve finally arrived.”