“Isn’t Auburn a strict football school?”
“What do Auburn fans even do in the spring?”
These were the questions I heard when I chose to be on The Plains almost a year ago. I used to think about this a lot, being a huge college basketball fan.
I didn’t want Saturday nights in November to be the only time Auburn went alive, but we weren’t even close to being known as a “basketball” school. I say that not because I’m comparing the players, but rather the interest from fans. We were just Davids, holding a slingshot, against Goliaths like Duke and Kentucky.
At least, that’s what I thought.
Flashback to Norfolk State, our first opponent of the season, Auburn Arena looked lonely. Sure, it was the first game of the season, but so was the football game against Georgia Southern that had a sold-out crowd.
It made me ask why there was such an interest gap between the two sports. It was neither the players’ nor coaches’ faults. Auburn, as a community, lacked a spark, excitement for a basketball culture.
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Maybe it was because of past records or past performances. Maybe some fans just didn’t have the reason to believe.
Auburn was winning games early on into the season. Sports outlets still cast doubts, calling our non-conference schedule easy. Then teams like Dayton, UAB, and Middle Tennessee fell at the hands of Auburn.
At this point, interest on The Plains was definitely increasing, but we were definitely not the loudest roar in the country. Then, on Dec. 23, 2017, the Tigers beat UConn. It was the spark. The smoke coming out of the tinder. All we needed was fire.
I know for a fact more people cared about that first conference game against Tennessee this year than any prior year, and it wasn’t even a home game. Basketball fans all across the country saw Auburn beat a good, ranked Volunteers team.
That wasn’t even the most important part. The Tigers had five players score in double digits. The Tigers had the fire.
If the nation has learned one thing about Auburn University these last few months, it is that our student section is one of the best in the country in any sport. We just need something to cheer for. I can’t imagine what the players felt as they walked onto the court from the locker room on Jan. 6 against Arkansas. The entire arena was filled. The band was playing and people were painted with orange and blue. We were roaring like Tigers in the jungle.
We witnessed the same result we had seen before on TV: double-digit victory against a ranked opponent, with five players scoring in double digits. This was an unknown feeling for many Auburn fans, but it sure was sweet.
Winning became a norm just like sold-out crowds at Auburn Arena. Every game, the atmosphere gets better and better. For the tremendous victory against Ole Miss, head coach Bruce Pearl had high praises for our home crowd.
“The crowd made an enormous difference tonight,” said Pearl. “There were over 3,400 students. It was a record student crowd for this building. It was a sellout. They turned people away. It’s what we came here for. It’s what we dreamed of. I looked up before the game and couldn’t believe how full the seats were. They’re excited for this team.”
Georgia was much of the same. Auburn fans, even those who had yet to see a game of Auburn basketball were standing in line hours before the doors even opened.
I don’t know what Cameron Indoor or Rupp Arena sound like. Deemed as two of the hardest places to play in college basketball, I can’t even imagine the level of energy that is present at those games. What I do know is that it cannot be much louder than what The Jungle has been for these last few weeks.
It’s seemingly impossible.
From the guy holding a phone poster that shows a missed call from the referee to that fan holding a giant face of Tim Cook, Auburn Arena is as crazy as it gets.
Don’t believe me? How many voices do you think were lost after Mustapha Heron’s dunk against Georgia? A lot.
Auburn’s student section has revolutionized Tiger basketball this year, but we have the players and coaches to thank for that. The players gave us reason after reason to be by their side. From Bryce Brown making clutch threes to Anfernee McLemore denying someone at the rim, this year’s squad has definitely put Auburn basketball back on the map.
Coach Pearl has what every coach dreams of: the love of his fans. It has given Auburn another reason to be proud. Whether you’re simply at the games because it’s the new big thing or because you truly believe in this team, we have found another way to come together as a school.
It’s our responsibility to be loud each and every game. It is our responsibility to be there for a team that has constantly been there for us.
Now, that 4-14 prediction printed on the shirts we see before every game is personal for all of Auburn.
Every time I walk to Auburn Arena, I see greatness. I see the Charles Barkley statue in the front that reminds me of our school’s basketball past. On the court, I see our bright future.
Are we a “basketball” school? That term is so broad. However, I know that we are currently ranked the best team in our conference and one of the best in the nation.
As for what we do in the spring? With the team playing at this rate, we’ll be partying all the way to March.
Story photos by Ingrid Schnader, photo editor
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