The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

‘They get hype, I get hype,’ How WSU students are changing the culture around WSU basketball

ZZU CRU introduces new traditions for men’s basketball, women’s basketball crowds remain sparse
Rueben Chinyelu high-fives a WSU student after WSU men’s basketball’s 78-69 win over Colorado, Jan. 27 in Pullman, Wash.

Each fan who chose to sit in the student section during WSU men’s basketball’s 78-69 win over Colorado Jan. 27 had a newspaper on the back of their seat and a sheet of paper containing instructions.

In bold at the top of the page, it read:

“You are in the student section; WE STAND DURING THE GAME!”

“And it worked. In that game versus Colorado, almost everyone in the student section was standing up,” said Hayden Bader, WSU sophomore broadcast news major.

Bader said he felt he was the only one standing at basketball games earlier in the season and was asked to sit down by students sitting behind him during the Utah game, Jan. 24.

The idea of sitting at a basketball game did not sit well with Bader. So, he messaged ZZU CRU, WSU’s official student section, on Instagram asking them to encourage students to stand during games.

Bader said ZZU CRU thanked him for reaching out and promised him some changes for future games.

That Saturday, dozens of students opened newspapers as WSU PA announcer Glenn Johnson announced Colorado’s starting lineup, a continuation of a classic college basketball tradition. Then, the Beasley lights turned off, the Cougar hype video blared and Cougs closed their newspapers and got on their feet to cheer on their team.

Bader said the student section remained standing for the majority of the game and got loud. As per the instruction sheet, the students chanted “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie Oi Oi Oi” each time WSU junior Oscar Cluff, the 6-foot-11 Sunshine Coast, Australia native, scored and cast good vibes by wiggling their fingers during free throws.

Bader said he appreciated the culture shift that occurred at the Colorado game.

“I actually texted ZZU CRU again during the game, and I told them, you know, ‘Thank you for making this change. For me, it means a lot.’ I said the students are listening and they’re all standing. And they, you know, did a little heart reaction to the text and then said ‘Go Cougs,'” Bader said.

WSU freshman center Rueyben Chenelu, in a wise, analogy-filled post-game press conference, gave the student section a shout-out.

“They are out there for us, so you have to give them something to be out for,” Chinyelu said. “Got to give them some fire so they keep pouring on the flame.”

Chinyelu has emerged as the Cougars’ most dynamic true freshman. He has racked up 34 blocks in 24 games with nine starts. Against Colorado on his home floor, Chinyelu blocked three Buff shots and at one point lowered his hand in the “too small” gesture before stomping his feet.

“They get hype, I get hype,” Chinyelu said. “It is beautiful to have [fans] and I appreciate them so much. I would like to see more than them.”

Bader said he loved seeing Chinyelu’s reaction to the hyped atmosphere.

“The players care, you know, when the students show up and it fires them up,” Bader said.

Bader said he is inspired by other schools’ approach to basketball, such as Duke, which has a rich basketball history.

“If we create a basketball culture like that, I mean, things will be better. Recruits will see it and be like, ‘Wow, this is an environment that people care about basketball,'” Bader said.

Abigail Gerken, ZZU CRU President and WSU senior accounting major said she organized a meeting with the student section leaders from the other Pac-12 universities to exchange ideas one year ago. Through these meetings, Gerken said she met the Oregon student section vice president, who sent her the basketball cheer sheet that the Ducks use.

Gerken said a member of ZZU CRU brought up the idea of reading newspapers during the opposing team’s lineup announcement – a return to a former WSU and popular college basketball tradition.

ZZU CRU staff has expanded from five people two years ago, to 14 in 2024. The staff includes executive team members, photographers, videographers and social media page managers who create content, giveaways and festivities to promote and celebrate WSU’s Athletic programs, Gerken said.

“I had the ambition and the ideas to make it bigger. I felt like we had a lot of potential,” she said.

ZZU CRU leadership visited a WSU men’s basketball practice in the fall and asked the student-athletes what they wanted to see from their student section.

“And we met with some of the players and I know Isaiah [Watts], he was like, ‘I love it when students trash talk.’ He’s like, ‘I think it’s the funniest thing ever,’” Gerken said.

At 18-6, WSU is second in the Pac-12, after the preseason Pac-12 media poll projected them to finish 10th. The Cougs are popping up on March Madness projections one month out from the big dance.

This level of success is new for the Cougs. Under the direction of fifth-year head coach Kyle Smith, WSU assembled a roster featuring former FCS, D-II and JUCO players to join the seven players who elected to remain with the program.

Myle Rice has earned a program-record six Pac-12 Freshman of the Week Awards and captured national attention, Isaac Jones and Jaylen Wells have wowed fans with their excellent play and flashy scoring and fan-favorite Andrej Jakimovski, the longest-tenured Coug in his fourth year, has let it fly from the 3-point line with a 35.5% clip.

Smith built it and the Cougs are beginning to come. WSU is 11-1 at home.

But even a great basketball team alone is not enough to get students to stay and get invested in the team. WSU women’s basketball has qualified for three consecutive NCAA Tournaments and won the Pac-12 Tournament Championship in March 2023, but consistently sees games with about a third to half of the men’s attendance.

WSU WBB had 1,154 fans attend its Friday night game versus then-No. 6 Colorado, Feb. 2 while 3,273 attended WSU MBB’s win over Colorado Jan. 27, a Saturday afternoon.

Head coach Kamie Ethridge said she wants to see WSU students support their peers on the women’s basketball team.

“It’s the piece we’re missing,” Ethridge said.

The Cougs have the chance to qualify for a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament and the men’s team has the chance to qualify for its first NCAA Tournament in 16 years.

“I’d love to see it be on the same scale. Because they deserve it,” Bader said.

Gerken said she believes students can and should do more to support WSU women’s basketball.

“I think definitely, we can do more,” Gerken said. “I think those Friday night games [are] something that we can really focus on and having it be an event that people want to go to.”

WSU women’s basketball has two remaining home games. WSU men’s basketball has five.

“I love sports, and I want to support our school,” Bader said. “I truly believe that students have an impact on the game.”

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About the Contributor
SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor
Sam is a senior multimedia journalism major from Lacey, Washington and the sports editor for spring 2024. He was the sports editor for the 2022-23 school year and managing editor for the summer and fall 2023. He plays the trumpet in the Cougar Marching Band, loves sports and has worked at the Evergreen since fall 2021.

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  • Johnny UtahFeb 15, 2024 at 11:33 pm

    Just watched the Coug’s beat Cal at a very sparse Friel Court. What happened to our fan base especially the students? Sucks to have a team this good and nobody in the stands. When I was at WSU the place would be packed and the team wasn’t nearly as good as this one.

  • Hayden BaderFeb 15, 2024 at 7:38 am

    This story came out great, Sam. It encapsulates the emotions I felt that led to change! Here’s to hoping it’s only up from here for the student section!