He’s one of the first players out for pre-game shoot around, and he gets a rush watching the Oklahoma students race to their seats almost 90 minutes before tip-off. He’s one of the last to leave after games. Win or lose, he signs by his estimate 300 to 400 autographs after every game.
“It’s crazy how it is now,” Hield said. “Every time I come out now, I’m seeing new fans. . . . It’s just exciting to see all the kids and their families out there. Their support of basketball means a lot to us.”
Around the same time that Oklahoma will be going through its final workout for a matchup on Tuesday night against Texas Tech, a small patch of grass just north of the Lloyd Noble Center will be filling up with speakers, chairs and tents on Monday afternoon. KrugsKamp is being built.
The initial idea around the Boom Squad, the nickname for the Sooners’ student section, was just to grow awareness around getting students to games – hoping to turn the Oklahoma fever into a mild case of basketball influenza.
It’s no longer hard to get fans to the game.
“The team is doing the work,” said Oklahoma junior communications major Kyle Smith, who is the lead organizer for the Boom Squad and dresses as a tiger for home games. “We’re just being the cheerleader, to yell at them and get them fired up.”
The idea of the Boom Squad, which is featured on the men’s basketball introduction video, has extended to the rest of the Lloyd Noble Center crowd. The lower bowl is no longer reserved for empty seats and little noise. Even with most of the students missing on holiday break, the Lloyd Noble Center was as loud as it has been since Blake Griffin marveled fans with his thunderous dunks.
“Our players talk about it all the time, in terms of the energy they derive from the students, from the crowds,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “The students weren’t here for us the previously. … Still, the crowds were great. It should be good the rest of the way. It’s a huge deal.”
The future matchups with Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor have already sold out. All of the tickets were sold for Oklahoma’s games against West Virginia and Kansas State. Sellouts have become more common than empty seats for the Sooners, who remained the No. 1 team in the country Monday.
But the students are back now.
Smith, who grew up as a big basketball fan in Indiana, started with the Boom Squad just because he wanted to be involved. He would run for newspapers or hand out before game or pass information by word of mouth.
Now, he’s running things – alongside social media guru Matthew Gaylor, a junior economics major. Gaylor, who is waiting on his shark costume for the end of the Big 12 season, also grew up a basketball fan. His father was a big Kansas Jayhawks fan. And that’s sort of what the pair wants the Lloyd Noble Center crowd to be, a replica of Kansas or Kansas State or West Virginia – all of whom Gaylor said have great crowds.
The two have helped the Boom Squad expand but have watched its effect permeate through the rest of the crowd, which will play host to the Sooners for four of the next five Big 12 games.
“We’re starting to get all the students back,” Gaylor said. “We’re trying to get them out of football season mode and into basketball season. We’re seeing the crowd show up. We’re seeing them more amped. We’re seeing them more focused for this.”