By Paul Lopez and Esteban Ramirez
The Runner Staff
Sounds of dribbling and basketballs going through the net were filling the Icardo Center as the CSU Bakersfield men’s basketball team held one last home practice Saturday, March 25 before heading to New York City.
The Roadrunners gave fans a chance to watch the team practice and spend some time with them before heading to the Big Apple to play against the number six seed Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
A game that will be played in the historic Madison Square Garden on March 28.
It was something that would have been a rare sight two years ago as the Icardo Center was packed with blue and gold shirts.
However, the success of this season and the Roadrunners’ run in the National Invitation Tournament has brought back to life school spirit, which had been gone for over 20 years.
CSUB head coach Rod Barnes, who wanted to improve the pride and spirit on campus, said the support from the community has been great.
“Our students really played a great roll this season because they came all the time and supported us, whether we were playing championship or whether we were playing for homecoming or senior night,” Barnes said. “Our students have really responded this year. They have continued to be with us. Obviously, the people on campus here, our administration have been great. The excitement that happens in [the Icardo Center] now, I think the people in this community really enjoy.”
This Cinderella run by CSUB has opened the door for a growth in school spirit, providing a chance for alumni to show their support.
“In [my] days, it was coming to class and leaving,” said Joel Chaidez, who graduated from CSUB in 1994. “I wasn’t involved, and that’s one of the things looking back at it I wish I would have [done]. So, for any students that are currently in class, it’s important for them to do what’s right and support a little bit more. Now that I’m in my profession because of Cal State, I’m slowly trying to make efforts to give back to the school.”
CSUB has been trying to build a Division I collegiate atmosphere, since its move in 2011 through different events and themed nights.
However, it took the hiring of Barnes and the program’s recent success for fans to once again pack the Icardo Center.
“The performance of the basketball team has been incredible,” said CSUB President Horace Mitchell. “Three big wins on the road in the NIT. Now, they are going to Madison Square Garden. That’s quite exciting. The campus and all of our students are all excited about that and of course the community is excited.”
The excitement for the team is something that has catapulted the growth of school spirit at CSUB.
Freshman liberal studies major and member of the cheer squad Katelyn Hallmark said she enjoys supporting the team.
“Spirit has been a part of my life forever, and getting to go to New York and seeing the [team] play so well as well as they have ever done is such an amazing experience,” Hallmark said.
CSUB’s Superfan Jordan Lovett, who is trying to get to New York to support the team, said he thinks school spirit has come along very well.
“One thing I always enjoy is how all the other athletics teams are starting to come to all the games to support all the other athletes,” said Lovett.
This run has been historic for CSUB as it is the first eighth seed to reach the semifinals in New York City, but also, it has created more pride and even brought in new fans like Michael Elliott from Hacienda Guerrero Catering.
“I never really followed the ’Runners until I started working [here],” said Elliott. “It got me into them and they seemed pretty good. Went to two or three games, and they were pretty exciting. I hope they do good in New York. I’ll be watching it on TV and rooting for them.”
Freshman guard Justin Davis said the community just embraced this team.
“It’s been all love,” Davis said. “The way the community embraces us just from everyday life. Everywhere you go it’s just, ‘we love you guys.’ Thank you for what you do, stuff like that. [They] have really embraced us. Made us feel welcomed here because I’m not from here. I call Bakersfield home now.”
CSUB is scheduled to play against Georgia Tech in Madison Square Garden at 4 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN.