Feb. 16, 2007
by Doug Richards
How exciting has the atmosphere been for Golden Knights men's basketball games inside the UCF Arena this year? Just ask Rice's Morris Almond.
"It was almost like (Duke University's) Cameron Indoor Stadium," Almond told the Central Florida Future after the Golden Knights posted a 72-67 Conference USA victory over the Owls on Jan. 20. "That's what it reminded me of."
Almond, expected to be a first round pick in the National Basketball Association Draft this spring, and his Owl teammates not only had to deal with the Golden Knights on the court, but also had to avoid the distractions caused by the raucous crowd.
The 3,807 spectators on hand for the league contest did their best to help the home team. During each Rice possession, UCF's student section screamed and stomped, making it tough for the Owls to communicate.
Each time an Owl stepped to the free-throw line, the noise level grew. The yells and chants from the UCF fans bounced off of the arena walls.
Almond's comments forced the rest of C-USA to take notice: playing against UCF in Orlando is no easy task.
Despite Almond's comparison, no one is going confuse the UCF Arena with Duke's hallowed venue. The Rowdy Knights and Kirk's Jerks are not the Cameron Crazies, but when the UCF Arena is packed with Golden Knight supporters, the building has one of the best enviroments in the conference.
"That is what college basketball is all about. When our building is packed, the atmosphere is amazing," said UCF head coach Kirk Speraw. "The students do a great job supporting their team and really get into the game."
The Golden Knights receive better support from their students than many of the other C-USA programs, who often put the co-eds away from the floor.
"I think the arena is a great environment," said UCF junior forward Jacob Loucks. "Our student section is the best in Conference USA. They are right there; on top of the court. They are so energetic and are always trying to get into the opponent's heads."
Thanks to an exciting team on the floor and a bevy of new promotions and ticket offers, attendance is up in 2006-07. Through the team's first 12 home contests of the year, 30,695 fans cheered on the squad at home.
In total, only 23,115 spectators watched UCF play at home a year ago.
The increase in attendance has not gone unnoticed to the Golden Knights, who won their first 10 home contests this year.
"It gives us extra energy when we get that kind of support at home," said Loucks. "Having that support really helps with our confidence."
Through its first 12 home games, UCF recorded four of the top-15 crowds in school history. For the first time, UCF announced a sellout prior to a game before the Golden Knights' contest with 11th-ranked Memphis on Jan. 31.
Over 4,800 fans crowded into the arena to see UCF take on a nationally-ranked opponent at home for only the second time in program history. Tickets officially soldout two days prior to the game.
The crowd for the Rice game ranked fourth all-time. UCF averaged 3,546 fans through its first four C-USA home contests.
The increase in attendance and interest comes at a key time for the program. Next fall, the Golden Knights will move next door into the new Convocation Center. The 10,000-seat venue will not have the intimacy of the UCF Arena, but will give the team one of the best home courts in the region.
Filling the Convocation Center will not be as easy as packing the tiny arena, but aspects of the venue will immediately attract new fans. The new building will have all of the amenities that the UCF Arena lacks: comfortable seats, luxury boxes, numerous concession options and a video scoreboard.
With the new retail outlets opening around the Convocation Center, fans will have dozens of food and entertainment options before and after games. With the increase in attendance this season, Speraw hopes that the fans come next year to not only explore and enjoy the Convocation Center and the restaurants and shops, but also to cheer for the Golden Knights on a consistent basis.
"It is a very exciting time to be a UCF fan," said Speraw. "We have a new home coming and it will be a chance for our fans and students to start new traditions. There is no reason why the Convocation Center cannot be one of the toughest places for opponents to play in the conference. We will put a good product on the floor and hopefully the fans come and support our team and have a good time."