'Our home-court atmosphere is the best': A new spin on a Xavier basketball tradition
After every Xavier men's basketball home game this season, head coach Sean Miller has started his press conference the same way.
He thanks the crowd.
"One thing I've learned in the Big East, there's not a big difference talent-wise. It just seems like every game feels like a 50-50 game. Teams have good programs, coaches, players," Miller said recently after a Xavier home win.
"One of the things that can set a program apart is just the home-court atmosphere. And our home-court atmosphere is the best."
A culmination of factors influenced the creation of that environment.
It took time. Patience. Energy.
A place called home: 20 years of basketball inside Xavier University's Cintas Center
There was Schmidt Fieldhouse and the Cincinnati Gardens.
Then in 2000, the Cintas Center opened on Xavier's campus, where the Musketeers have fashioned some of the most competitive real estate in the college basketball landscape.
Xavier's all-time record in the Cintas Center is 308-54, and the energy in the building this season has been hard to ignore.
"I heard so much about it even as I'd been hired, but hadn't arrived yet," said Dr. Colleen Hanycz, who took over as Xavier University's president on July 1, 2021. "The Cintas environment is pretty famous. I was in Philadelphia at LaSalle University, had heard about this, then saw it at that first game."
Almost immediately, Hanycz found herself in a conversation that centered around a longstanding tradition at Xavier, where the president had become a part of that environment.
"Well, Father Graham (Xavier's former president) used to do the sweater vest, and he'd go out in the suite and swing the sweater vest," said Hanycz. "What are you going to do? And I thought, well, I'm not going to do anything that involves removing clothing.
"But I would want to be with our students."
So, at the beginning of Hanycz's tenure as president, she started her own tradition.
During games, Hanycz joins Xavier's student section and helps cheer on the Musketeers.
"They really embraced it and welcomed me," Hanycz said. "So now if I'm here, I go down every single game."
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The first time Hanycz set foot in the Cintas Center, it was empty. She was visiting the campus in November of 2020 and she got a tour of the arena.
"The lights were on, but it was empty. Even that was impressive," she said. "But to see this place full. To see our students line up, rain, shine, or today, when it's 20 degrees for hours to get good seats. There is just a love of Xavier that comes across in this space, more than any other space."
It's a new tradition the students have come to appreciate.
"Everyone was really excited," the first time Hanycz joined the students, said Megan Osting, a junior at Xavier and the vice president of the X-treme Fans. "She has a fun energy to her. She loves it. She loves to stand next to us. She's obviously supporting the team, but she's also supporting the students."
Osting wasn't here for Father Graham's traditional sweater twirl, "But I think (Dr. Hancyz) is trying to make her own tradition, which I really appreciate."
It may seem like a small part of every game, and it is, but part of the reason why Xavier's home-court advantage has flourished over the years is that people care.
"I think it means to them exactly what I want it to mean to them, which is they are the center of my world," said Hanycz. "And I'm standing with them, win, lose, whatever, I'm with them. Sometimes that means the band. Sometimes that means our incredible X-treme fan group, sometimes it means the ones that are 12 rows up. But I need them to know that they are in my heart, and they are the reason I do what I do."
The fan base has been lively this season. Couple Miller's return with a team that's 17-5 and 9-2 in the Big East, tied for first place in the conference race, and it's easy to see why the decibel levels have increased.
It's also a fan base that hasn't seen an NCAA Tournament appearance in four years, since the 2017-18 season when the Musketeers were a No. 1 seed.
"I'm a senior and I haven't seen them play in March Madness yet," said Kenny Schneider, the X-treme Fans president. "We're all just ready to explode for that. It feels like we're all in on this, all the students, all the fans. It definitely feels different like the energy in the arena."
There's a good reason why Miller thanks the students and the fans after every home game.
It's often said that the home court is worth three or four points.
At Xavier, maybe it's more like five.
The Musketeers are going to need every inch of that advantage over the final month of the season with five home games left.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: A new spin on a time-honored Xavier basketball tradition