Duke, North Carolina, even at Florida State it might seem normal. But at the University of Miami, to see students sprinting through the concourse of the Watsco Center at one o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, unheard of.
Maybe if Drake was waiting onstage inside the arena. But no famous rapper was there to greet the students. Just 14 players, led by their endearing coach, hoping to exact revenge on their biggest rival.
30 minutes before the game, nearly 1,000 students, reflecting the bright lights of the arena off their Pit Viper glasses, shouted obscenities at the opposing team for the entirety of their warm up. They basked in the attention of the dozen cameras that captured the type of emotion that hasn’t been seen from UM students in a long time.
“Standing from the front row and looking up, you could feel the energy and excitement from the student section building up as we got closer to tip-off,” said junior Rohin Vaidya, one of the two basketball chairs for Category 5. “It was unreal.”
The energy from the student section, all 2,000 of them, was palpable, and entirely unfamiliar to most current students.
Most UM students never experienced the full-body chills that come when an arena erupts in roaring cheers after their college team scores a basket.
The truth is UM students haven’t had much to cheer for the past few years. Aside from Olympic sports – track and field, diving and tennis – there have been no major postseason successes. And as a result, students don’t attend games.
Other journalists or die-hard fans can complain all they want about the students not being supportive, but this is Miami, where there are plenty of other activities, so if students have a choice between cheering on a losing team or exploring Miami, they’ll almost always choose the latter.
But Saturday afternoon, the full-body chills were in full effect as the Hurricanes, led by Isaiah Wong, razzle-dazzled their way back from a 26-point deficit.
“Obviously in the first half, it wasn’t the greatest feeling. Nobody ever wants their team to be down 20+ points,” Vaidya said. “There was definitely a worry that students were going to leave at halftime. But, I think anybody who has watched this team since the start of the season knew they were going to put in a strong comeback effort in the second half.”
The student section, recently dubbed “The Eye”, led by the never-wavering Category 5, laid out cheering instructions on every seat. Nearly every single student stayed until the last buzzer.
“That was probably the loudest game I’ve ever been a part of at the Watsco Center,” said sixth-year redshirt senior Sam Waardenburg.
The Hurricanes are giving students something to cheer for the first time in a long time. The pure heart and determinism the team displayed to pull themselves out of the deepest whole was inspiring.
“We are hardworking,” said point guard Isaiah Wong. “We had an off first half, but the second half we just stayed together and put in as much effort as we could. We all stayed together and that’s what I like about this team. We all play hard to the end. We can make any comeback. We always have that hope that we can still win the game.”
Although the Canes lost the game by one point in heartbreaking fashion, the game and the environment inside the Watsco Center felt like a return to normalcy and a return to the long-desired basketball environment that’s been missing for years.
“That’s what Miami is all about. Pure passion, spirit and pride of being a Miami Hurricane,” Vaidya said. “Regardless of the final score, I think we all had a lot of fun in the student section. We were so proud of the fight and resiliency of the team and we showed that by cheering them on as they walked off the floor.”