Friday, January 28, 2011

Stage set for Saturday sellout

Yet another reason we're going to miss this guy.

The stated and unstated goal amongst the Hofstra athletic staff the last couple weeks has been to sell out the Arena for tomorrow’s game against Drexel. From that perspective, last night went about as well as it could, even with the Flying Dutchmen’s loss to VCU.

Sure, the Dutchmen fell to VCU, 82-67, to drop into a tie for second place in the CAA. But it could have been a far more lopsided defeat for the Dutchmen, who were down by as many as 22 in the second half to a team that has won 22 straight home games.

Almost as importantly, Charles Jenkins scored “just” 20 points, leaving him 16 shy of breaking Antoine Agudio’s school record and all but assuring he’ll do it in front of a home crowd that will include the 10 incoming members of the Hofstra Athletics Hall of Fame who will be honored at halftime. Among the inductees is Speedy Claxton, the only player in the last 25 years whose impact on the program exceeds that of Jenkins.

“Speedy will be in the building, Norman [Richardson] will be in the building along with a number of his other teammates,” Hofstra associate director of athletics for external relations Tim McMahon said last night. “And as long as Charles puts up a decent amount of points tonight, it could be a very anxiously awaited game and there could be a moment late in the first half or early in the second half [with] a standing ovation unlike any we’ve ever heard. I think it could be a really special day.”

McMahon and his staff have had tomorrow circled on their calendar long before the Dutchmen got off to a scorching start in the CAA and Jenkins moved to the doorstep of history. Tomorrow marks the first home game since the students resumed classes and has been dubbed “Welcome Back Students Day.” There is a free tailgate for students in the parking lots adjacent to the Arena at 2 pm and the first 1,000 students entering the Arena receive number 22 T-shirts. Jenkins and his teammates joined the marketing effort this week when they recorded a hilarious video in which Jenkins wonders where he can get one of the T-shirts everyone else is wearing. And this afternoon at the Student Center, Mo Cassara and the Dutchmen--a mere 10 hours removed from landing on Long Island following the return from Richmond--handed out 900 tickets during lunch.

McMahon credited fellow former Hofstra athlete Chrissy Arnone, the new assistant director of athletics for marketing and promotions, for coming up with the Jenkins video idea. “We can be more creative than we ever have been in getting people aware of what’s going on,” McMahon said. “[Making] a video for the students might not be cutting edge by today’s standards, but maybe for Hofstra’s marketing efforts, it is.”

McMahon’s department has also focused on drawing youth groups and Hofstra staff members to the game. Director of ticket sales Mike Neely accompanied the men’s and women’s basketball teams on numerous visits to local elementary schools over the last few weeks and distributed 1,200 vouchers good for two free tickets.

Tomorrow is also Staff Appreciation Day, during which any Hofstra employees who show their ID at the ticket office receive four free tickets, as well as four free drinks, four free bags of chips and either four free hot dogs or four free pretzels. McMahon said he expects at least 400 staffers to take advantage of the offer.

Add into the equation walk-up sales that should be stronger than usual thanks to the Dutchmen’s place in the standings as well as Jenkins’ pursuit of Agudio and McMahon is cautiously optimistic the Arena will welcome its biggest crowd since the 2007 BracketBuster, when a capacity crowd saw the Dutchmen edge Holy Cross 65-64.

“It’s not out of the question that we could sell out,” McMahon said. “I do anticipate over 4,000 and I anticipate one of our best crowds in a long time.”

The buzz didn’t last too long after the last sellout: Though the Dutchmen were coming off three straight NIT appearances, average attendance dropped from 3,623 to 2,740 in 2007-08, when the Dutchmen went 12-18 during Agudio’s senior season and Jenkins’ freshman campaign. But while Jenkins is down to his last few home games, McMahon is confident the memories generated by Jenkins as well as the presence of charismatic head coach Mo Cassara will help Hofstra sustain the interest.

“I think there is a feeling this time around—and it’s not a knock on anybody, it’s a compliment to Mo and to Charles—that whether you’re an alum or a friend or a player or a coach, that Mo has a great way of making people feel like they’re a part of it and doing it in a genuine way,” McMahon said. “And I think the return on that is people, when they’re successful, feel invested. So I think it’s a very community-type feeling right now…I just think it’s a real fun time for Hofstra basketball.”

It’s also been fun for McMahon and his staff. “We’ll work just as hard as we ever have,” McMahon said. “We won’t sit back and say ‘Hey, they’re winning, let’s just kind of ride the wave.’ We’ll work just as hard to push for a sellout. In the past we can say ‘How many will we get? Over 3,500? Over 4,000?” Now we’re saying ‘Let’s get a sellout.’

“A guy like Charles Jenkins deserves everything he gets and that’s why it’s so rewarding, especially given the past and everything that’s gone on in the last year. It’s been really nice to see them succeed on the court and then it gives us a B-12 shot as a staff to continue to work just as hard, if not harder than ever. It kind of carries you over the top.

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