One of the tenets of Shaka Smart’s vision for the VCU Basketball program has been what he calls, “a level of appreciation”. Smart often asks his players to stop and appreciate everything from their scholarship, to charter flights to their academic advisors. But Smart’s emphasis on appreciation isn’t limited to just his players.
Nearly every one of Smart’s postgame press conferences at the Verizon Wireless Arena the last two years has started the same way, with the Rams’ coach expressing gratitude for VCU’s fans and the atmosphere in the arena. Of late, he’s having a hard time counting all of his blessings.
“I know I sound a bit like a broken record,” Smart said following VCU’s Dec. 17 win over UNC Wilmington. “But the crowd tonight was phenomenal.”
That night, the Rams recorded their eighth straight sellout, a streak that includes the final four home games from the 2010-11 season.
On Jan. 4, VCU packed the house for the 10th straight game to set a record for a Colonial Athletic Association schools. UNC Wilmington recorded nine straight sellouts in 2002. The previous VCU record had been four straight sellouts, established during the 2007-08 season.
What’s even more remarkable is that the last three sellouts have occurred during VCU’s Winter Break, when most students have gone home for the holidays. Prior to this season, the Rams had never sold out a game at the Siegel Center during the school’s Winter Break. In addition, VCU, Kansas, Kansas State, Gonzaga, Duke and Michigan State were the only Division I schools in the country to sell out all of their December home games this season.
Traditionally, VCU will enhance marketing and promotions during the Winter Break in order to offset the loss of the student body. This season, it’s taken on greater meaning. Preserving the streak has been not just a source of pride for the program, it’s become a priority.
As the Rams return in 2012, there’s an excellent chance they’ll the Siegel Center mark for attendance. VCU’s average gate of 6,645 over 14 games last season was the best in the building’s 11-year run.
VCU’s attendance spike shows no signs of relenting. The Rams had already been riding a wave of steady success even before 2011’s Final Four appearance yielded a flood of interest in the program. With VCU off to a solid start again this season, 2012 should be another fun year at the Verizon Wireless Arena, a building that has already earned a reputation as the CAA’s toughest for opponents, as UNC Wilmington Coach Buzz Peterson recently illustrated.
“When you combine their quickness, the atmosphere in here and the band, it really slapped our young guys in the face.”
All Ram fans can appreciate a quote like that.