Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) is a Big 12 correspondent for Rush The Court. Last night, he covered Fresno State-Rice from Houston.
It’s been awhile since the Fresno State Bulldogs made the NCAA Tournament. 14 years, in fact. To give you a sense of how long it’s been, the coach that last got them there (in 2001), the legendary Jerry Tarkanian, passed away earlier this year. Since Tarkanian retired, the program has undergone two coaching changes, NCAA sanctions and a change in conference affiliation. Between 2003 and 2008, Fresno State’s home arena, the Save Mart Center, averaged around 11,700 fans per game. From the 2008-09 season into the present, the Bulldogs have played host to an average of 4,000 fewer fans per game (average attendance in that span is a little more than 7,200). As a result, the Fresno State athletic department has gotten creative with how to fill those empty seats. Two years ago, former Bulldog and current Indiana Pacer superstar Paul George agreed to buy every ticket at Save Mart Center for the Bulldogs’ home opener so fans could get in for free. This season FSU ran a promotion that delivered a free ticket to last week’s game against Lamar to anyone who could prove they followed any of the athletic department’s social media accounts.
In 2011, Rodney Terry was hired as Fresno State’s head coach. Terry was well-known for his recruiting efforts at Texas, where he was able to secure commitments from the likes of current NBA players Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson, as well as current Miami (FL) guard Sheldon McClellan (who is averaging 19.8 ppg as a senior this season). It made sense that it would take a few years to get the Fresno State program back on its feet, and it finally feels like the Bulldogs are beginning to walk on their own in Terry’s fifth season.