UH fans have new hope for success

Rekindled enthusiasm boosts basketball ticket sales

James Beltran

Sports Editor

The impact was immediate - not just with excited Cougar players and fans, but also in ticket sales.

The phones ringing off the hooks in the ticket office after last Wednesday's news conference gave the University of Houston a resounding message: Clyde Drexler has glided back home and Houston is ecstatic about it.

"The base ticket sales increased 29 percent on just a rumor," said UH Athletics Director Chet Gladchuk.

But all rumor ended last week when Drexler was officially handed the reins of the UH men's basketball program, which has fallen on tough times since Drexler's glory days at UH in the early 1980s.

Rough estimates from the UH sports information department have new orders for season tickets at more than 1,000 since Drexler's hire. This doesn't include the 1,241 season-ticket holders from 1997-98, which still have the opportunity to renew their policy with UH.

After enduring the school's worst-ever record this season (20 losses), fans have found a new ray of hope with the new Cougar coach.

"I'm thrilled to death because Clyde's a class act who can turn this program around," said UH alum Margaret Bock, whose eyes widened as memories of Final Fours undoubtedly ran through her mind. "I think I'm going to have to whip out my Phi Slama Jama shoes and shirt from my closet after all these years. This is going to be great!"

The UH basketball program thrived under coach Guy V. Lewis in the Phi Slama Jama days, packing Hofheinz Pavilion with fans thirsting for fast-break, slam-dunk action.

After another horrid season under former coach Alvin Brooks, however, the Cougar program has sunk to further depths of futility. The program suffered at the turnstiles last season, mustering an average crowd of 2,838.

In Brooks' five-year tenure as head coach, the Cougars had four losing seasons and zero NCAA Tournament appearances.

"Clyde's going to make this an exciting program to watch again," said Lewis, founder of the Phi Slama simple theory of "run and dunk."

"I don't know if he's going to use the same methods I used when I coached," Lewis added, "but he has the right to name it whatever he wants to."

Along with Lewis, Houston Rocket Hakeem Olajuwon and a group of thrilled current Cougar players gathered to see the naming of UH's fifth all-time men's basketball coach.

"He has a lot of experience in the NBA and in college," said Cougar sophomore guard Willie Moore.

"He hasn't had any time as a coach, but his name should help him. He's from this area and has put together a good staff around him. All those things should help him draw in fans and recruit some good players."

Freshman forward Chad Hendrick said he was surprised Drexler was hired.

"I heard a lot of rumors ever since coach Brooks was fired," he said. "But when I found out who the next coach would be I got really excited. I'm just anxious for next season to start."

And so are the fans.

"I went to about five or six games last year," said senior biology major Greg Grabice. "Now that Drexler's coaching, I know I'm going to all of them next year. I'm sure a lot of people will go to more games next year.

When you have someone like that coaching a team, people will come out and watch."

Despite the fate of the program laying in the hands of a man without a coaching resume, Gladchuk said he is not second-guessing his choice.

"I haven't thought about that," Gladchuk said of Drexler's lack of coaching experience. "His entire life has revolved around success. From college to the NBA, he has achieved all of his goals. I don't see any reason why that should stop with this next challenge of returning the University of Houston basketball team to national prominence."

This story originally appeared in Houston News Today.

(www.houstontoday.com)

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