Hoyas Fans Have an Interest Rooting

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Joe Lonardo is a fixture at Georgetown's home basketball games. The 1969 graduate has been following the Hoyas for more than 40 years, ever since his roommate, Jim Supple, captained the team, so he can offer perspective about the crowds that have been gathering at Verizon Center to watch the sixth-ranked Hoyas play this season.

"I'd say you have to go back to 1989-90 for the same kind of enthusiasm," said Lonardo, who has had season tickets since 1982. "Certainly, the Iverson years were great. But you don't remember the tremendous enthusiasm, like in the Mourning-Mutombo-Bryant-Tillmon years. . . . It has been a long time since we've had this kind of support."

That support may not be reflected in tonight's Big East matchup, when first-place Georgetown (18-2, 8-1) hosts last-place South Florida (10-12, 1-8). But the Hoyas have regularly played in front of large, enthusiastic crowds during Big East play; their first three conference games -- against Connecticut, Notre Dame and Syracuse -- each drew more than 19,200. The last time the Hoyas sold out three straight home games came in 1996.

Georgetown's average home attendance is 12,357, which is similar to the numbers the Hoyas were averaging during the Alonzo Mourning (1988-92) and Allen Iverson (1994-96) eras.

The Hoyas' season ticket base has steadily increased during Coach John Thompson III's tenure, from 2,300 during 2004-05 to 10,000 this season. In Thompson's first season, seating at what was then known as MCI Center was restricted to the lower bowl (approximately 12,500 seats). This year, Georgetown is averaging 13,329 fans at Verizon Center.

"We have a great team and a great coach who understands what it means to get the students and the crowd involved," said Kyle Ragsdale, an associate director of athletics (external affairs). "Now we're developing a home-court advantage. We're not all the way there, but we're closer and it's potentially impacting games."

The Hoyas are undefeated at home, and their 17-game home winning streak is the second-longest in the Big East, behind Notre Dame's 33. The atmosphere at Verizon Center was electric in Georgetown's narrow comeback victories over Connecticut and Syracuse.

"The fans are terrific. We not only appreciate it, but we need that energy," Thompson said after the Hoyas beat Notre Dame in front of 19,286 on Jan. 19. "Our fans do a great job of understanding when we're not playing well, when we hit those lulls, that's when we need them."

Georgetown's students have been especially enthusiastic. They purchased a record 3,400 season ticket packages -- an impressive total for a school with an undergraduate enrollment of 6,853. In Thompson's first season, there was just one student section; now there are three: one behind each basket, and one in the upper deck behind the visitor's bench.

Ray Borgone -- a senior and the president of Hoya Blue, a student spirit organization -- remembers what game day was like his freshman year: "You could walk in 15 minutes before tip-off and still get a seat in one of the first 10 rows. Now it's a battle. People are getting here hours before tip-off to get a good seat, which is great."

Bob Coleman, a first-year Georgetown law student from Rochester, N.Y., arrived at 9 a.m. -- three hours before tip-off -- in order to snag his front-row seat in the student section for the Seton Hall game. Anna Selling, a sophomore from Chicago, left campus at 8:15 a.m. She and her friends either walk to Rosslyn to catch Metro or take a cab, in order to arrive early enough to snag their preferred seats behind the basket, on the side with the Georgetown bench.

In general, the athletic department tries to make it as convenient as possible for the students to get to Verizon Center, "because they create the atmosphere, and they set the tone," said Brian McGuire, an associate director of athletics (facilities and operations).

This season, the department is providing Metro cards to students who purchase season tickets, and buses run between campus and the Rosslyn Metro station.

In previous years, the school provided free buses all the way to the arena -- for big games, there were as many as 40 buses -- but that was no longer feasible with the increase in student turnout.

"It's just fun. The fact that they're really good and they're winning a lot of their home games lately -- that kind of thing reinforces and encourages people to come out for all the home games," Borgone said. "I think we've made it to the point where it's just fun to be here. The game's fun, everybody's cheering, there's a lot of school spirit. People want to be a part of that, even if they're not that into basketball."

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