This column appeared in the State Press, Arizona State University’s student newspaper on April 3, 1997, just days after the Final Four.
Headline: UofA’s title raises questions about ASU’s rebuilding
Dear Bill Frieder:
Hello, coach, have you fully recovered from watching Lute Olson’s squad capture the excitement and attention of the entire state and much of the nation?
Were you cheering for your Bank One commercial buddy? Were you depressed by what you saw? Were you sitting there remembering how great it felt when the Sun Devils reached the Sweet Sixteen in 1995? Were you wondering “what if Mike Bibby had stayed in the Phoenix area instead of bolting south to become a Wildcat?”
I imagine your off-season will be busy spent trying to return the ASU men’s basketball program to the level of success it achieved in the past when the likes of Byron Scott, Alton Lister and Lafayette “Fat” Lever donned the maroon and gold, or to the level ASU achieved during your first six seasons at ASU when the Sun Devils participated in post-season tournaments each year.
There’s a lot of work to be done, but I hope you can accomplish it. The team’s No. 1 priority is obviously getting mobile, athletic forwards with big bodies who can wreak havoc in the middle like Mario Bennett used to. The downtrodden Devils also need to add some depth and talent to compliment guards Jeremy Veal and Eddie House.
The enthusiastic Sun Devil supporters set an all-time attendance record in 1994-95 with 158,633. In 1995-96, ASU set a new average attendance record (9,514). But the fans stayed away last season when ASU slipped to 10-20, 2-16 in the conference. The Sun Devils had zero sellouts and played before a pathetic average of 4,822 fans (34 percent capacity).
Now it’s time for them to come back.
Unlike Chicago Cubs fans, who for years have religiously supported mediocrity, ASU rooters aren’t as loyal. If the team is winning, they will go to the game. As I witnessed ASU’s second-half collapse at UofA’s rocking McKale Center on Feb. 5, I again realized how important fans are to a team’s livelihood.
The Sun Devils lacked a home-court advantage last season. When UofA came to Tempe on Jan. 11, the University Activity Center was packed with zealous ‘Zona backers. Come on, can’t the Sun Devils have an advantage against their archrival, at their home court? They didn’t have any advantage last season – except perhaps when they played the Bosnian National Team or Sam Houston State.
Your track record as a coach has been quite impressive:
*Back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1985 and 1986.
*A 6-0 record in NCAA First-Round Games.
*A 17-year head coaching record of 323-195 (at Michigan and ASU).
But that was then, this is now. Fans are impatient. They want teams to win RIGHT NOW!
UofA has already captured the attention and excitement of the entire state. The team will be featured on the upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated. The Wildcats should retain all of their key players (Michael Dickerson, Bibby, A.J. Bramlett, Final Four MVP Miles Simon and Jason Terry).
Now the madness of March is behind us and the foolishness of April 1 is also gone, here’s hoping ASU can return to respectability and can shock the socks of Olson’s 1997 NCAA champs next January.
Good luck, coach.
One Concerned Citizen.