Hysteria, open scrimmage a preview of expected big crowds

Western Kentucky Universtiy men’s basketball engages in an in-house scrimmage at EA Diddle Arena October 20 in Bowling Green. 

Alec Jessie

With the season almost here, the hype for the WKU men’s basketball season is beginning to mount.

The Hilltoppers hosted two preseason events last week in Diddle Arena: Hilltopper Hysteria and an open scrimmage. While the format for each event was different, there was a common themeBowling Green residents and WKU students showed up to the events in a big way.

“All of y’all that showed up tonight without a ticket, you better get one real soon,” head coach Rick Stansbury told the crowd at Hilltopper Hysteria.

The hype around this year’s Hilltopper basketball team is real. Stansbury expects sellouts at every home game this year and the players seem ready for it as well.

Although this group hasn’t played in front of a sellout crowd yet, it has had plenty of exposure at its practices and events. During last week’s pro-day, over 20 NBA scouts came to Bowling Green to watch the Hilltoppers work. Several NBA teams have also attended WKU practices this year. At Hilltopper Hysteria, the student section was full for the player introductions and scrimmage later in the night.

Stansbury claimed that playing in front of mass crowds changes the way his players perform.

“We do it to get out in front of somebody,” Stansbury said after Saturday’s open scrimmage. “Because when you play in front of somebody, it makes you play different. That’s just the way that it is. Mentally, you come out here before a game, you have a different mindset.”

WKU played in front of a beyond-capacity crowd three times last season in home games against Middle Tennessee State, Old Dominion and Marshall. The Hilltoppers went 2-1 in those three games.

Among the loudest Diddle Arena got during Hysteria was during five-star freshman center Charles Bassey’s introduction. As the crowd roared when his name was called, Bassey grinned from ear to ear, embracing the ovation.

Bassey could not contain his excitement when his name got called Thursday night.

“I couldn’t wait, man,” Bassey said. “I was so full of joy. I couldn’t wait to get in here and play with my new teammates. I can’t wait. It’s going to be a great season.”

Although the crowd was a bit lighter for the open scrimmage, the anticipation was not. The crowd got into the action multiple times.

Rather than folding under the pressure of playing in front of amped up Hilltopper fans, the players fed off of the crowd energy.

After three capacity crowds last year, WKU is expecting more this year. The Hilltoppers made a run to the semifinal of the National Invitation Tournament and then produced a top-20 recruiting class, according to college football and basketball recruiting network Rivals. Athletics director Todd Stewart recently told the Bowling Green Rotary Club that around only 200 season tickets remained.

Stansbury also invited the members of Rick’s Rowdies to come over to his house for a cookout in which his players would serve the fans. The turnout was better than expected, with over 100 fans in attendance.

Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth said seeing all the fans coming out and supporting the team encourages him to work harder on the court.

“It shows we can get more people in the gym and go over capacity for sure,” Hollingsworth said.

As for the impact the massive crowds have, Hollingsworth believes the Hilltoppers need a full and energized crowd at every home game.

“We need y’all,” Hollingsworth said about the fan base. “We can’t do it without you.”

Reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.