David White: Until fans say so, Bulldogs won’t matter much in basketball

The Fresno BeeMarch 29, 2014 

Fresno State fans cheer on the men's basketball team as it faces Old Dominion in a CBI semifinal March 26, 2014, far removed from the Boyd Grant and Jerry Tarkanian glory days.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

The Fresno State men's basketball team tries, it really does.

It wants to be noticed. It wants to be liked. It wants to be relevant to the everyday Bulldogs fan for the first time since Ray Lopes made Jerry Tarkanian look like a sainthood candidate in comparison.

It's just not working. They're in the CBI finals, and no one even knows what CBI stands for. They're playing Siena in the best-of-three finals, as if it really takes three games to decide who's No. 101 in the country.

I mean, is this really where the post-Tarkanian hole has bottomed out? A best-of-three argument over who is the best team to not get invited to the NCAA Tournament or the NIT?

It's enough to make Boyd Grant roll over in his Tomb.

The worst thing about this year's 17-16 march to mediocrity isn't that it did little to inspire passion among a dormant fan base; the real sadness is that it did nothing to incite angst from the napping masses.

No one cared, one way or the other. When the football team had a bad year under Pat Hill, the local radio waves were blackened with hate calls. They got mad because the football team mattered.

When's the last time you felt that way about the men's basketball team? Tell me that last time you went off on the Barkboard because the refs threw your basketball team's chances down a well.

These Bulldogs didn't matter much when Steve Cleveland ran a clean program, but hardly a winning program, as if he couldn't have it both ways. New coach Rodney Terry -- or is it Terry Rodney? Tellingly, not everyone is sure -- has been no more successful.

Abject failures? Absolutely not, if only because no star players have been charged with murder or inspired federal grand juries to convene.

But, who can honestly remember the details of the 2006-07 season, when the Bulldogs went 22-10 and made the NIT field?

How many of us rushed to buy tickets to see Paul George, as if we had any idea the little-known Bulldog would grow up to posterize LeBron James in the NBA?

Those limited success stories have all been lost in the wash of 18-loss seasons and ninth-place finishes. To think, we couldn't run Ron Adams and Gary Colson out of town fast enough because they "only" took the Bulldogs to the NIT.

Did you catch that? We "ran" them out of town because we "cared." These days, we want to keep Terry around for another year because, hey, what does it matter anyway?

No one gets arrested. No scholarships get revoked. No one comes to the games either. The only two times this year they semi-filled the Save Mart Center, they had to give the tickets away.

No, really. Take our tickets, for example -- please.

Think about it: the Bulldogs are happy to have drawn 3,500-4,000 actual fans -- not announced crowd -- to their two CBI wins. They'll be giddy to crack 5,000 for Monday's finals opener. In a 16,000-seat arena, tarps not included.

These are the baby steps they are required to make in the slow march back to relevance. Winning the CBI isn't going to launch Fresno State's basketball team ahead of the football team. It won't even lift them ahead of spring football.

But maybe, just maybe, it will be enough to remind a hibernating fan base that the men's basketball team did not in fact go the way of wrestling and men's soccer.

Maybe Terry's Bulldogs finally will show that they're worth some fuss.

The columnist can be reached at bydw@sbcglobal.net or @bydavidwhite on Twitter.

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