In·cite (in sît´) vt. To urge to action; stir up; rouse. By most definitions, first-year Arizona State coach Herb Sendek was inciting Sun Devil fans well before he was whistled for two technical fouls and tossed from Thursday’s loss to Washington for “inciting an undesirable response” from the home crowd.
The buzz created by Sendek’s hiring resulted in an increase in season ticket sales and nearly 100 percent renewal rates from Rob Evans’ last season.
However, the average fan has not responded to the hiring as energetically. Attendance is down slightly from 6,731 per game last season to 6,246 this season as many fans have adopted a “wait until next year” stance with the young Sun Devils.
It didn’t help that seven of ASU’s 14 home games thus far were played when school was out of session and that three early contests did not tip until after 7:30 p.m. on weekdays. As a result, the Sun Devils rank seventh in the Pac-10 in average home attendance.
ASU must average 9,640 fans over its last four games (which is possible with headliners Arizona and UCLA still on the schedule) to avoid finishing below 7,000 per game for only the second time since the 1998-99 season.
Though the raw numbers don’t indicate progress, the energy in Wells Fargo Arena is drastically improved over last season.
“It’s getting better, don’t you think? I think it is,” Sendek said after Thursday’s loss. “In the second half, (the fans) came alive. … You saw when they came alive the way our guys responded.”
With school finally back in session, ASU pulled out all the stops in an attempt to lure students to this weekend’s homestand.
Sendek shook hands and kissed babies (well, he shook hands) at the student union earlier this week, and the ASU band and a group of students known as “The Herbivores” will parade through the residence halls passing out free tickets to students prior to today’s contest against Washington State.
Sendek’s grass-roots incitement campaign and the return of students to campus helped Thursday, as ASU drew 7,164 — an increase of about 1,000 attendees over last weekend’s contests against the Oregon schools.
Support this weekend was key beyond the obvious financial implications of putting the proverbial butts in the seats.
First, ASU is anticipating an unofficial visit from 6-foot-7 junior small forward Johnny Coy of Benton (Mo.) St. Joseph High this weekend.
If Sendek is able to head off rising interest from Kansas and others by securing Coy’s verbal commitment, it would be ASU’s second pledge (along with that of 6-8 power forward Taylor Rohde of Phoenix Pinnacle High) of the class of 2008.
However, as Arizona coach Lute Olson pointed out earlier this season when asked about ASU’s recruiting success, “Kids do not want to play in a half-filled arena. … You can sign some kids the first time around, (but) if the fans don’t react, you are going to have a hard time signing kids the next time around.”
Second, the Sun Devils have three freshmen playing heavy minutes and, mired in an 11-game losing streak, they need all the help they can get. Afterall, there are only eight chances left to pick up the team’s first conference win.
After Sendek was tossed from Thursday’s game, the crowd nearly lifted the team to a win.
“Hopefully (today) they won’t sit down and there will be even more people,” Sendek said. “Because that’s what it’s going to take.”
BONUS SHOT: Rest easy, Sun Devil fans. Michael Reed, the game official who dealt Sendek the first ejection of his career on Thursday, is not scheduled to work any more ASU games this season.