While the season doesn’t tip off for another month, thousands of URI basketball fans packed the Ryan Center for Rhody Madness last Friday, showing the noticeable growth in the fan base taking place over the last few years.
Men’s coach Dan Hurley and women’s coach Daynia La-Force expressed their appreciation for the support coming from the fans at this event.
Hurley, who last season coached URI into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999, even threw down a trampoline dunk for the fans.
While a lot of winning happens on the basketball court, Hurley expressed the importance of having full stands during the games. “It allows you to have sustainable success,” Hurley said of the growing fan base. “It’s critically important to put together a consistent winning program.”
La-Force, in her fourth season at URI, showed off her guitar skills while her team was being introduced. She thinks the event helps to attract more students to the games, which is a goal of hers going into this season. “One of the things we were really trying to focus on this season is getting more students to the games,” La-Force said. “Every year is getting better and better, and if we can get a couple more hundred students to come out based on tonight’s festivities that would be a great thing.”
Rhody Madness itself is an opportunity for the players to expose themselves to the fans prior to the season starting. “It gives us exposure,” La-Force said. “Since the first year I got here, we had a couple hundred. Now we’re almost to the thousands.”
Aside from La-Force’s guitar playing and Hurley’s dunk, the players were able to show off some of their skills to the crowd. The men’s team participated in a dunk contest, which was won by junior forward Ryan Preston.
The players appreciated the early support from their fan base, and are excited to show them what they’re made of on the court. Senior Jarvis Garrett expressed the importance of the growth of the Rhody faithful. “Having a fan base is one of the greatest things in basketball, or in sports period,” Garrett said. “Just coming out here knowing you got thousands of fans watching you, wanting to support you, and behind you 100 percent. You just want to keep them happy and it keeps a smile on your face at the same time.”
E.C. Matthews acknowledged the importance of the event. “It’s an honor,” Matthews said, regarding the preseason support. “We do this for them, we’re going to need them later on down the stretch during the season.”
Hurley’s squad, consisting of five seniors and several other returning players, portrayed a lot of chemistry with each other and looks to show it on the court this season. Matthews felt that the experiences the seniors have had is going to pay off when it matters most. “I think it will show up in the big games,” Matthews said. “I think last year we didn’t really know how to finish the games, but the fact that we played so long and just the chemistry we have, it’s going to really show up.”
Both teams have high expectations for the season. Sophomore Ednaija “Nay” Lassiter, is extremely confident in the young team, which features seven freshmen. “With that new group brings a fresh energy from all of us, and that’s the most important thing. Bringing those people in and having the same goal,” Lassiter said. “Our expectations are to win an A-10 Championship.”
The men’s team, ranked first in the Atlantic 10’s preseason poll, also expect to put another banner up. “Our hope is that we can have a great year like we had last year.” Hurley said. “We obviously experienced some championship success, and played some exciting games in March. Once you kind of get a taste of that it’s what you want all the time.”
Matthews and the players share the same vision as Hurley. “Do the same thing as last year,” Matthews said with a smile. “Except do it better”