TEMPE, AZ - Sun Devil basketball players and East Valley natives Calaen Robinson and Eric Jacobsen understand that ASU has traditionally been a football-first school. But with their improvement during the 2013 offseason, along with the return of some top talent from last year's team, they believe a shift in that paradigm is right around the corner.
"We always get into arguments with the football players about how they get more fans, and we just tell them, ‘You guys are a great football team, but we're a great basketball team, and we're just trying to do it the way you guys are doing it,'" said Robinson, a redshirt freshman guard and graduate of Tempe Corona Del Sol High School, who decided to stay home and play for ASU partly because his mother is a die-hard Sun Devil fan.
ASU fans show up in large numbers for football games, but not so much for basketball. Two weeks ago, over 66,000 fans (just short of a sellout) packed Sun Devil Stadium to watch the football team defeat Wisconsin.
Compare that to ASU's 2012-13 basketball season, when an average of just 5,411 fans per game came out to Wells Fargo Arena, which has a seating capacity of 10,754.
Part of that lethargy toward the team is likely because it has qualified for the NCAA Tournament just four times in the last 30 years. But Robinson said there's good reason for ASU fans to invest their entertainment dollars in Sun Devil basketball when the season begins on Nov. 8.
ASU's returning players include guard Jahii Carson, last year's Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year, and center Jordan Bachynski, who was fifth in the NCAA in blocks per game last season. Both men helped lead ASU to an unexpected 22 wins in 2012-13.
Robinson said his game has improved in the past year thanks to Carson's tutelage. "I'm just basing my whole game off of Jahii and seeing how far he can get me because he's been helping me out a whole lot," he said.
Likewise, Jacobsen, a forward from Hamilton High School in Chandler whose mother and grandmother are Sun Devil alums, said Bachynski has helped him progress. "All summer, me and Jordan have been battling. I think I've gotten better," he said. "I definitely think this year I'll have earned a lot more playing time."
Robinson redshirted last season and Jacobsen saw very limited minutes as a freshman. But if their breakout performances in exhibition games during the team's trip to China last month are any indication, both men are poised to earn more playing time this year.
As for those empty seats, Jacobson said there's a simple formula for filling them. "I feel like the biggest way to get fans is we've got to win games, and I think this year we'll be winning a lot," he said.
"We won 20-something games last year, but winning the Pac-12 championship would be a big step this year. We're going to play hard and give it our all."
Likewise, Robinson said the Devils are well positioned to improve upon last season's performance. "I feel like a lot of ASU students should come out to our games because we bring a lot of passion, and it's exciting watching a fast-paced game going up and down (the court) for a whole 40 minutes. You can't get anything better than that," he said.
"Obviously, this is a football school, but we like to be just as (successful) as them. They should definitely come out."
Jacobsen went as far as to issue a warning to the rest of the Pac-12 – along with any doubters on the Sun Devil football team.
"Watch out for ASU basketball," he said. "That's all I've got to say."