First-year UAlbany men’s basketball coach Killings wants to win games — and fill the stands — at SEFCU Arena

UAlbany men’s basketball head coach Dwayne Killings high-fives with campers Eric Goldschmidt of Duanesburg, Joey Romeo of Guilderland, and Justin Stevens of Knox, during the first week of "Dwayne Killings Basketball Day Camp" at UAlbany in Albany on Thursday, July 29, 2021.

UAlbany men’s basketball head coach Dwayne Killings high-fives with campers Eric Goldschmidt of Duanesburg, Joey Romeo of Guilderland, and Justin Stevens of Knox, during the first week of "Dwayne Killings Basketball Day Camp" at UAlbany in Albany on Thursday, July 29, 2021.

ALBANY — He wants to win on the court.

Dwayne Killings, UAlbany’s first-year men’s basketball head coach, also wants to win in the stands.

“When you dream of being a head coach, you don’t dream about the building being half full,” Killings said. “When the kids dream about being college basketball players, they don’t dream about the arena being half full.”

Since he was hired in mid-March, Killings has been vocal regarding his desire for the Great Danes’ home games to be played in front of larger crowds and active in his attempts to make connections within the Capital Region community to help foster that change.

“I’m trying to make sure that people are aware and motivated to get in the building because appreciating [the team] from afar doesn’t do a lot for us,” said Killings, whose team debuts at 7 p.m. Tuesday at SEFCU Arena against Towson. “We need the energy and the people inside the building.”

Of course, there were no fans allowed at games last season at SEFCU Arena due to restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Before that, though, robust crowds at SEFCU Arena were not the norm. Inside UAlbany’s 4,538-seat arena — which fans currently need to wear a face mask to enter, in accordance with UAlbany’s pandemic-related protocols — the Great Danes’ average attendance for the five seasons prior to the 2020-21 campaign was 2,511.2, according to the NCAA’s database. The first season in that five-season cycle saw the Great Danes draw an average home crowd of 3,161, one shy of 1,000 more than the average crowd of 2,162 that watched former head coach Will Brown’s team during the 2019-20 season.

Repeatedly, Killings has said he knows “there’s a hunger for college basketball in the Albany area,” and there’s proof of that. The average home attendance for Siena — “the other program in town” — during the last five seasons with fans allowed at games was 5,970.2. Siena’s men’s basketball brand has long been strong in the Capital Region, but the Saints’ crowd is like any other — it’s a mixture of diehard fans and casual ones, and it’s far from exclusively made up of alumni. 

“A lot of them,” Killings said, “just like basketball.”

Killings has made it a point to try to get some of those fans to head to SEFCU Arena for a game this season, which is an aim that doesn’t directly compete with Siena since the two programs aren’t scheduled to play home games on the same day at any point this season. UAlbany’s new head coach has hosted multiple community events, ran camps, reached out to alumni and been a fixture on the school’s campus. That work has been “intentional” — one of Killings’ favorite words — and was a focal point of his first several months as the Great Danes’ head coach.

“The first goal for me was to build program awareness,” Killings said.

“I always tell him all the time, ‘You won in the community — now you’ve got to win on the court,’ ” said Vic Cegles, UAlbany’s deputy athletic director who is the Great Danes’ men’s basketball sport administrator.

UAlbany has a small base of season-ticket holders; as of the end of last week, data Cegles provided to The Daily Gazette showed UAlbany with 369 season-ticket holders for this season, a figure that represents a 70% renewal rate from the 2019-20 season. UAlbany wants to grow that number, but also is making a strong push to get more students to head to games than in recent years. There’s been an increased focus on making buses available for students to get from their dorms to games, and making sure students know about attractions and events associated with games.

“And we’re hoping with the new coach, new team, new energy — that’ll help bring more kids out,” Cegles said.

“I’m hoping that with the work we’ve done and the efforts of our marketing department, that we’ll find new fans that come into the building for the first time,” Killings said. “I’m hoping there’s a lot of new faces that come here and then they’re inspired to keep coming.”

The easiest way to keep people coming back, of course, is for the basketball team to win games and to deliver on Killings’ promise to play an eye-pleasing, up-tempo style. Tuesday’s game against Towson provides the first chance at that — and Killings knows there will be few better opportunities to create buzz around his team than the one the Great Danes have with an opening-night home game.

“We get one first impression and I want to make it perfect,” Killings said.

“We want to play hard and give energy,” UAlbany junior Trey Hutcheson said. “It’s going to be the first time that people see this team, that people see coach Killings, so we want everyone who comes here to have a good experience, and make sure they know we’re playing hard.”

Killings has already made sure some extra fans will be at his debut game. He said his wife Ana — “the head coach of the household” — told him Monday morning that the number of family members and friends of Killings making the trip to SEFCU Arena had reached 65. 

His hope, though, is that there are more people Tuesday night attending their first UAlbany game than just the portion of the crowd that’s there primarily in support of him — and that those fans are back at SEFCU Arena for the team’s second home game against Harvard on Nov. 17.

“We want to get it right,” Killings said. “I’m hoping that everybody that comes into the building says [they] want to come back because it was a great experience.”

Categories: -Sports-, College Sports

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