Jim Gazzolo column: Students should drink Will Wade Kool-Aid

Published 11:00 am Thursday, November 9, 2023

Monday night in Richmond, Virginia, the Cowboys stunned even their most hopeful of fans.

Without their head coach and a couple of key players, McNeese State, not exactly known for men’s basketball, toppled a solid Virginia Commonwealth program in the season opener.

McNeese completely outplayed its host. The 76-65 victory over the Rams got the attention of a lot of people, but there is one group that has yet to be heard from.

Email newsletter signup

With the hiring of Will Wade, everything changed for a program that had lost 45 games over the last two seasons, including a school-record 23 last year. But Wade has brought energy and attention — some good, some bad — to a program that has had little of either for the better part of a decade or longer.

Still, the impact on campus is not yet known. We are about to find out.

McNeese says the hiring of Wade has been a financial boom for the athletic department. Season ticket sales are at an all-time high, same for the premier basketball fan club. So McNeese’s home arena should have large crowds.

However, the big question isn’t whether the general public will come out and support the team but rather, what are the students going to do?

Through the years the student section at home games has been mostly vacant and quiet. It’s been a trickle of support at best.

There have been some exceptions, like when the Legacy Center reopened after Hurricane Laura and the students filled the place. It led to the best moment to date in the building as Zach Scott hit a buzzer-beater to win and then raced over to his classmates to celebrate.

The rest of the team followed, and for a moment the place was rocking.

But when the next home game came around there were cricket sounds coming from that end of the arena.

Granted, McNeese students haven’t had a lot to work with, but when they did show up they brought a different attitude to the games, creating a true college atmosphere that the Cowboys seemed to feed off.

An example was last year’s Southland Conference Tournament. Larger-than-usual student crowds showed up and gave the Cowboys a boost. They surprisingly won two games, and forward Christian Shumate, who had a monster run in the tourney, credited the fans.

“They gave us a boost in energy, it was fun,” he said.

But that was not the norm.

After Monday there seems to be something for the McNeese kids to finally root for, a team they can get behind and enjoy. They now have a chance to be part of a season that could be if nothing else interesting.

But will they?

We will start to find out Friday afternoon when the Cowboys play their home opener against the College of Biblical Studies. While realistically the visitors don’t have much of a prayer in this one, it is still a chance for the students to join in the fun.

All over college basketball the best teams seem to have the best student sections. Now nobody is expecting McNeese to be like Duke’s Cameron Crazies who have been perfecting their craft for decades, but it would be nice to see a new tradition begin in Lake Charles.

They can even earn the nickname the Legacy Loonies. Wacky dress is not required but it won’t hurt either.

All of this should be done in fun, of course, because it is just a game. But over the years I have heard McNeese students say there is nothing to do, or the team isn’t good. Or of course, I don’t want to drive to Burton Coliseum it’s too far.

Well, here is your chance. The team is improved, the area is on campus, and one of the best on the mid-major level. Now is your chance to get involved.

The ball is in the court of the McNeese students.

If nothing else, it beats counting cats at Burton.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com