Travis Ford keeps popping up around the Student Union, reaching out to new friends — and fans — in Oklahoma State's students.
And it's working, with the young crowd suddenly the “in” crowd at Cowboys basketball games. The lower ends of Gallagher-Iba Arena are filling in, with students responding to Ford's urging to come check out the good things that are happening with his program.
Next on the “Bring The Rowdy Back” agenda: bringing back the older crowd.
You are wanted.
Any previous reasons for staying away no longer exist. As football nears an end and big basketball games — Gonzaga and the Big 12 — are recognizable on the horizon, a team with talent and ample upside should appeal to a fan base that once transformed GIA into a raucous two-hour thrill ride.
So if you've been away, perhaps it's time to put away past grievances and prove that a college basketball pulse remains in Stillwater.
Where once there may have been concerns, and some legitimate, there now are real reasons to return.
You wanted a better team? Here it is, with Ford stacking strong recruiting classes into a squad that's back in the Top 25, likely to stay. Coaches saw it coming, picking the Cowboys at No. 3 in the Big 12 preseason poll. The Pokes, in a 7-1 start, have confirmed that confidence. And they now appear primed to make a run at ending Kansas' stranglehold on the conference championship. This team has only begun to tap into its potential, with post man Michael Cobbins early in his return from injury and Brian Williams possibly on the way.
You long for the days of Eddie Sutton-esque defense? These Cowboys are clamping down. Opponents are shooting just 35.4 percent from the floor against OSU. And through eight games, only one team has managed to score more than 65 points, with five held to 58 or fewer. The Cowboys play hard on the defensive end, a reflection of the major emphasis placed on defense daily in practices.
“We're long. We're athletic. We're hard to shoot over,” Ford said. “Haven't had to coach effort or attitude, which we spent a lot of time doing in the past. When you don't have to spend time motivating them to play hard, that really helps.”
You miss the Suttons in general? That's OK; it's never easy saying goodbye to friends. But Eddie's coming back, seen occupying his seat just under the G-A-L-L-A-G-H-E-R I-B-A A-R-E-N-A letters at midcourt. So if he's still at home in GIA, his fans should be, too, right?
You want affordable tickets? They're available, with prices on some of these early nonconference games going for $10 and $15.
You want a team to wrap your arms around and embrace? Get to know these Cowboys. Markel Brown and Cobbins start each day with Twitter messages of “Thanking God!” Newcomer Marcus Smart, while one of the nation's most talented freshmen, is as equally humble as skilled. By all accounts, Ford has assembled a roster of likable young men that play well together — on and off the court.
This is a transitional time of the year for college basketball, with football still relevant, the holidays approaching and the best hoops matchups still in the distance. For all the reminiscing of great nonconference crowds in days gone by, there were plenty of half-filled nights at GIA during previous regimes, too.
But there's a time coming — New Year's Eve against Gonzaga to be precise — when the Cowboys could benefit from the “Rowdiest Arena In The Country.”
A great crowd can swing a game, as Sutton's teams discovered many times. Will these Cowboys win every night? No. But they could win every home game, if the rowdy returns permanently to GIA.
Ford has made his appeal to the students, drawing a positive response.
Next: the devoted Cowboys fans of the past.
You are wanted.