Jim Gazzolo column: Cowboys nurturing new culture

Published 5:04 pm Thursday, February 15, 2024

Home Saturdays at McNeese State have become more than just basketball.

Suddenly we have found a case of star gazing from the fan base.

And there are plenty of unique things to see during the doubleheaders, with most of the sights coming before the men’s team even takes the court.

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There is no other place in the college basketball world where you can find the men’s team watching the women’s game from expensive courtside seats. Yet that’s where the Cowboys seem to prefer to take in the early action.

They grab their spots, headsets attached to their skulls, and go about their business. No last-minute film session for this crew.

There is no indication that the better the NIL deal the bigger the headphones, but we will keep checking.

If you wonder what the coaching staff thinks of this, you can scan the building and find the ringmaster of this team just about anywhere talking to just about anybody.

The spotlight is clearly on head coach Will Wade, owner of the richest coaching contract in school history.

The money and newfound popularity don’t seem to have gone to his head. Even before games, Wade remains a man of his new people.

Before last Saturday’s showdown with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, the first-year McNeese coach chatted with any fan brave enough to walk up and talk with him. He shook hands, smiled for photos and even signed a few autographs.

Never recall seeing Bobby Knight, Dean Smith or even Coach K do anything close to that 90 minutes before a first-place showdown, but maybe I just missed it.

Without question, the best scene came when Wade got a case of the munchies.

What does the richest coach in McNeese history do when he’s hungry two hours before a big game?

He eats a hot dog.

Wade went to the concession stand, stood in line with his followers waiting his turn and bought himself a hot dog just like any other fan might do.

You would think a guy now making what he does might cater something into his office, or maybe at least get Uber Eats, but Wade keeps it simple.

And even while having lunch, he stopped chewing to take a picture with a fan or two, holding the hot dog out of camera sight.

These people seem to relish (see what we did there?) moments like this with the man who has turned the program around and become one of them in less than a year.

As for his players, many took photos with young fans and signed autographs. Christian Shumate and D.J. Richards both stopped a couple of times on their way to the locker room for a picture or two.

This has all become part of the show and what is good to see more than anything is how both Wade and his players and assistants are embracing their roles. They are eating (no bun intended) this up and enjoying the ride.

Fan-favorite Shumate, who endured some tough times the last two seasons, is happy to see the change in culture.

“We appreciate all the support we are getting from the fans,” Shumate said. “I am glad to be a part of this and we want to keep paying it back anyway we can.”

That likely means more appearances courtside, more autographs signed and even more pictures coming.

And probably more hot dogs for Wade, just hold the onions, there are closeups to be taken.

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