Loss of NBA is opportunity for Sac State basketball

Dante Geoffrey

The city of Sacramento has one major professional sports team.

(If that provokes you to say “Hey! What about the Sacramento Mountain Lions!?” then you probably play for the Sacramento Mountain Lions.)

I’m speaking, of course, of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.

The same Sacramento Kings who almost skipped town last year, and the same NBA that still has its 2011-12 season in limbo.

The league’s owners and player’s union seemed to narrow the gap between their demands last week, and a 72-game season was proposed; as of now, however, nothing is certain.

Professional basketball won’t be played in Sacramento – or anywhere – until Dec. 15 at the earliest.

But there is at least one group that actually stands to gain from the lack of pro basketball.

Sacramento State’s basketball program – not one of the school’s more popular or successful programs – can capitalize on this opportunity.

A month or more of no NBA could draw some desperate basketball fans to The Nest.

But Hornets’ basketball has to play its part.

It won’t be enough for the Kings to be sidelined for the season. To attract the Kings’ lost fans, Sacramento State basketball will have to – gasp! – win.

It’s something the school’s program hasn’t done in a while, especially on the men’s side. A strong start to the season could cause a positive snowball effect.

That was certainly the case for the football team after it beat Oregon State Sept. 3 in Corvallis, Ore. The Hornet Bookstore reported increased sales of merchandise and there was a certain buzz about the team on campus, in the community and on local sports-radio.

Either basketball team will be hard-pressed to find a watershed victory quite like that of the football team’s, but even a series of wins over mediocre competition could be enough to draw fans from the community looking for their basketball fix.

Despite the fact the basketball teams haven’t caused so much as a stir during my (extended) time on campus, there is some precedent for basketball pride at Sac State.

The 1987-88 men’s basketball team was honored last week when it was inducted into the Hornets Hall of Fame.

Joseph Anders, head coach of that 22-win team, spoke at the induction ceremony of the support his team received.

“We were the toughest ticket to get in town,” Anders said. He went on, describing the fans lined up to see  them play.

Maybe nostalgia helped Anders embellish, but the point is basketball popularity and success are possible at Sac State.

The men’s team will have the chance to make waves with just one game, Thursday night at Washington State. Underdog team travels north to a Pac-12 program – sound familiar? I’m not saying it’s likely. Heck, I’m not saying there’s more than a sliver of a chance. I’m just saying.

But with the NBA lockout, the basketball teams don’t have to win big to win support.

They just have to win.

Dante Geoffrey can be reached at asports@statehornet.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @dantegeoffrey.