11/13/09 — Opinion -- Higginbotham becomes student again

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Opinion -- Higginbotham becomes student again

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on November 13, 2009 1:46 PM

The gesture was small but the message was clear. Moments before tip-off of last week's annual Green-White scrimmage Mount Olive head men's basketball coach Joey Higginbotham marched into Kornegay Arena dressed as a Kornegay Krazie.

The idea to paint his chest and face, and join the student section jostled the second-year Trojans head coach out of bed the night before.

"Actually, I thought about it around 12 o'clock last night," said Higginbotham before the exhibition contest. "I woke up out of bed and I ran up here and got some jerseys and stuff like that. I said, 'what the heck, I get to do this one time I year. I get to be with the students.'

"It was a blast."

Higginbotham's message to the student body was simple. He's not asking them to do anything he isn't willing to do himself. Higginbotham boisterously heckled his own players, led chants of encouragement for both the Green and White squads and didn't appear to be too far removed from his own days as a Mount Olive student.

On the court, the Trojans have traditionally given fans plenty to cheer about. They've won 20 or more games five of the last six seasons, won a pair of conference regular-season titles and made the NCAA tournament five of the past six years.

However, rarely does Kornegay Arena live up to its potential as a home-court advantage. With bleachers right on top of the floor and a relatively low ceiling making it difficult for noise to escape, Kornegay has the potential to rock on a regular basis.

Yet, I would argue it hasn't been I-can't-hear-myself-think-loud since Barton visited in late January during the 2007-08 season. It's easy to pack the place when a bitter rival comes to town. Where is that same enthusiasm when an out-of-state conference opponent pays a visit or when the campus seemingly clears out on a weekend?

"We really want to try to get our student section back this year," said Higginbotham. "I just wanted to be involved with them."

With all due respect to the town of Mount Olive, it isn't offering college students an abundance of alternatives to supporting Trojans athletics. Finding a reason not to support a traditionally successful program in your back yard can be difficult in a sleepy town in eastern North Carolina.

As much as no one at Mount Olive wants to model anything after Barton, taking a look at the Bulldogs' student section may not be a bad idea. In my few trips to Wilson Gym, the Barton students have been loud, involved and knowledgeable.

If Mount Olive alumni, students and community members are taking the "build it and then we'll come approach," it's time to realize that former head coach Bill Clingnan and now Higginbotham have already built a winner.

Higginbotham took a step out on faith that Roy Williams, Mike Kryzewski or Sidney Lowe would never take. It hasn't all of a sudden become time for Trojans supporters to jump on the Mount Olive bandwagon.

It's past time.