Getting students in the stands high priority

Win.

That, partially, is how men’s basketball coach Geno Ford intends to get students in the stands when the Braves return to Carver Arena next fall.

“The players want to play in front of full arenas, the coaches want to coach in front of full arenas and some of that’s our job,” he said Monday after a press conference formally introducing him as head coach. “We’ve got to win.”

A victorious team means students want to be there. They want tickets. They want to cheer on the team and, Ford said, a big part of that is going to be winning home games.

“We [the team] talked about winning home games [Sunday] night,” he said. “There’s no worse feeling in life as a college basketball player or college basketball coach than losing a home game. There’s nothing worse.

“It’s post game, you’re hungry, and you don’t even feel like going out in public. You just want to go to your apartment and pull the blanket up over your eyes until tomorrow.”

So winning at Carver will be key for Ford’s team next season. His goal, he said, is to win every home game, even though it’s not going to happen every year.

More than victory, though, is interaction.

“It’s going to be key that we’re visible and that we interact (with students,)” he said. “As coaches, we need to get out and be visible.”

In the past, Ford and his coaching staff had visited greek houses and have given talks to groups on campus. His goal has always been to get them into the arena on game night.

It’s an issue, Ford said, when the team is separate from the student body at large.

Student involvement aside, the fan base – often rated in the top 50 in the nation – is a large reason he took this job. He did, after all, leave a team with 25 wins this season that is returning all but one player.

“I wasn’t dying to get out the door at Kent, and I don’t think they particularly wanted me to leave,” Ford said. “But Bradley is a special place in the college basketball landscape in terms of size and support of the community, the facilities, the financial support.”

The community support he cited is from central Illinois, not just Bradley’s campus. The fact that average ticket sales at Carver Arena are roughly 9,000 even in March of most seasons, is impressive.

The key, though, is making sure it’s not all community support.

“We’ve already got great community support,” he said. “And we’ve got great student support. But we’ve got to do our part in building it. We need to do our part and be competitive and win and fill the stands. If we do, it will ignite like wildfire.”