Wazzu's ZZU CRU comes of age

PULLMAN –- The game clock hit double zero. Washington State students rushed Friel Court to celebrate a rare win over mighty Gonzaga. Cougar basketball officially turned the corner that December night 13 months ago. And so did the red-shirted rowdies known as the ZZU CRU.

The popular student fan club, created in 2003 to inject some of the spirit of Cougar football into the basketball side of the athletic department, was deafening during that game and like a swarm of locusts afterward.

With their prime-time seating -- dubbed The Cage -- they would soon become a favorite of every cameraman from FSN to ESPN.

Talk about a turnaround from humble beginnings. Until last season, WSU hadn't produced a winning hoops campaign since 1995-96. Most nights, the ZZU CRU accounted for a quarter of total attendance.


FANS SWARM FRIEL AFTER BEATING ZAGS LAST SEASON.

"Nobody went to the basketball games," says Nicole Early, recruiting chair for the ZZU CRU. "But we wanted to eventually have a similar atmosphere to Gonzaga."

The CRU's mission is straight forward: "To create an imposing home-court advantage."

Indeed.

The Cougars' thrilling victory over Oregon on Sunday offered colorful testament to how raucous Friel Court -– spearheaded by the ZZU CRU -- has become. Late in the contest, with WSU trailing 59-58 and needing a defensive stop, the crowd of more than 11,000 was on its feet, lungs first. When the Ducks committed a shot-clock violation, "you couldn't hear the buzzer," said Cougar head coach Tony Bennett, noting that the moment was the loudest he can ever remember at Friel.

The growth of the ZZU CRU has been as dramatic as the Cougars' fortunes on the court, climbing from about 200 in the early days to 500 in 2005-06, 1,500 last year and now 3,000-plus -– and counting -– this season.

"Nobody wants to miss out on history," says ZZU CRU member David Bush.

"We are definitely getting recognition. We set up a table during freshman orientation because we had so many people sending us emails asking how to sign up," Early said.


TO JOIN THE CROWD, SEND AN EMAIL TO ZZUCRU@WSU.EDU.

The growth of the ZZU CRU has been a boost to the team, says Cougar forward Daven Harmeling.

"They're (the ZZU CRU) jumping up and down going nuts and it gives us another burst of energy to make a defensive stand with the shot-clock running down," he says.

Harmeling thinks the ZZU CRU is the loudest student corps in the Pac-10 -- but could add to its repertoire with orchestrated chants similar to what's heard at Stanford and elsewhere.

"Those schools have smaller student sections, but they have leaders that yell out chants and everything is very cohesive."

Early and Bush share those sentiments.

"Our school is new to basketball success, so a lot of our fans still yell obscenities at the officials. We try to change it up and drown them out because it makes us look bad on TV," says Early.

Adds Bush: "The ‘overrated' chant is the worst in my opinion. It takes away credit from our team for beating a quality opponent, but I think our fans are starting to release the underdog mentality and expect those wins."

The ZZU CRU frequently holds "chalk talk" meetings with coaches from both the men's and women's teams to discuss ideas for chants and new traditions.

NOTABLE: Students are no longer allowed to line-up outside of Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum before 6 a.m. on game days. In addition, lines now must wrap around the coliseum toward the recreation center rather than extend to the bridge over Stadium Way.


THE ZZU CRU WAS OUT IN FORCE TO GREET THE DUCKS SUNDAY.


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