It was a startling site last Friday night at the Liacouras center. Over 1,700 people for a basketball game not featuring John Chaney, Pepe Sanchez or Lynn Greer.
Instead, the 1,754 fans were on hand to witness the regular season premiere of the Temple women’s basketball team and world-famous coach Dawn Staley.
Last season, the team averaged only 518 people a game. Their biggest home attendance was in a February game against St. Bonaventure when they drew 747 people.
One of the major reasons for the large spike in attendance is Staley. The hordes of elementary school students, from the William Dick elementary school, came equipped with signs professing their admiration of the Olympic and WNBA star.
“I think it helps you as a player to have people in the stands cheering for you when you do something good,” Staley said. “If you have two or three people in the stands it’s almost like practice, like having managers on the sideline. But I think it feels good that people are in the stands supporting us.”
In the 89-55 romp over Lehigh, the team drew ovations from the loud supporters. When the team went on a 24-4 run, the once empty seats of the arena were filled with raucous cheering.
With an insurmountable 64-44 lead, junior college transfer Athena Christoforakis picked the ball away from Lehigh and passed it to freshman Christena Hamilton.
Hamilton sent a pass to Philly prep star Christina Cruz who finished the play with a lay up- the place went crazy. People were on their feet, yelling, screaming and supporting the program.
“It felt really good,” senior Ieesha Turnage said. “It was awesome it was just like fans cheering, adrenaline flowing, everything.”
Lehigh took a 30-second timeout and then Temple’s excitement-fueled attack formed again.
Hamilton picked up another steal and assisted Regan Apo on a lay up. Once again it was unadulterated madness inside the Liacouras Center.
“I think fan support is probably one of the most important things in a game,” Apo said. “When things get down and you look up and there’s hundreds of people there cheering for you, it boosts you up automatically.”
Without any fan support last season, the team finished at 10-18. Most basketball fans were interested in one thing- men’s basketball. This year, according to Staley, the tide is starting to shift.
“We’re pounding the pavements just trying to get people in the stands because we’re a hard working team, ” Staley said. “I’m not going to say we’re a good team, but we’re going to compete and we’re going to work hard and that is something that is synonymous with Philadelphia teams.”
One of the reasons fans have flocked to women’s games is the team’s style of play. This season they shifted to a fast-paced offense from last year’s half-court game.
The running-and-gunning that has ensued has drawn people to the formerly empty red seats.
“We kinda did expect a crowd but this is getting better and better,” junior Lisa Jakubowicz said. “If we keep winning it will only get better.”
Now that the team has managed to draw kids and adults to the games, the missing link is the Temple student population. But the team thinks that as time passes and the word is spread, they will come.
“Every game I see more and more students out there,” Apo said. “We’re playing such an up tempo style of basketball this year it’s just interesting to watch.”
“They’d be stupid if they didn’t come out,” Jakubowicz added.
Temple continues its season tonight against Marist at 7 p.m. Their next home game is not until Dec. 27 against Iona. On Dec. 2, they take on Big 5 rival Villanova at the Pavilion.