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October 10, 2012

Pitt basketball team giving back to the fans

Jamie Dixon thinks Pitt basketball fans deserve more than a little credit for the support they have shown the Panthers.

After all, Pitt currently boasts of a season-ticket waiting list that contains more than 11,000 names, and the Panthers have recorded 186 consecutive home sellouts, a streak that dates back to 2002. Nearly 2,000,000 people have attended Pitt basketball games at the Petersen Events Center in that building's 10-year history, and the attendance total will eclipse the 2,000,000 mark this season.

"There's no question: we have great support," Dixon said Wednesday night. "And I think that locally sometimes we don't recognize that, we focus on what you don't have. But nationally you talk to people, and they know about the Zoo, they know about the sellouts, they know about our atmosphere. That's the facts.

"Nationally, they're telling us, 'Wow, I wish we were like that; wow, I wish we had that type of support.'"

Dixon gave those quotes while speaking after a special event at the Petersen Events Center Wednesday night. Last year, Athletic Director Steve Pederson, along with Dixon and other Athletic Department members, organized an event wherein a random group of season-ticket holders would get a unique opportunity to have dinner and socialize with the players and coaches. At the end of dinner, Dixon introduced each player, and the players presented the fans with their season-ticket packages.

That event went so well for everyone involved that Pitt decided to do it once again this year. So 25 season-ticket holders were selected at random and invited to the Campus Club in the Petersen Events Center Wednesday night.

It was a unique experience for the fans, but also for the players.

"It's always good to have things like this where we can interact with them and get to know their personalities and they get to know ours," senior center Dante Taylor said.

Pitt fans will get another couple of chances to see the players up close and personal this weekend. The annual Blue-Gold Scrimmage will be held at the Petersen Events Center on Sunday, but on Friday night the Panthers will take part in another college basketball tradition:

Midnight Madness.

Pitt hasn't hosted Midnight Madness since 2004. NCAA rules changed recently to allow teams to hold a practice earlier in the day Friday prior to a Midnight Madness event, and that change motivated Dixon to bring back the event.

"I think I mentioned, 'Hey, maybe we should do a Midnight Madness,'" Dixon said. "I've never been a big fan of it; obviously it's not Midnight Madness anymore, but you can still get a practice in, which we're going to do.

"Given the timing and the changing of the rules and how it worked out, I think you're not going to lose much and at the same time we're going to gain a lot with support and give back to the students, the fans, the University. I think it's just going to be a fun event for everybody involved."

The players are certainly looking forward to Midnight Madness. Taylor said he was "disappointed" when he arrived at Pitt and learned that the Panthers didn't have any kind of festivities. Forward Lamar Patterson thinks the evening should be pretty exciting.

"It's something new, Midnight Madness; we haven't done it since we've been here. And it's outdoors, so that's something to look forward to. And we have some things planned to make it fun."

Ultimately, Dixon and the players said Wednesday night that all of these events are being held in appreciation of the fans.

"The fans are pretty much the backbone of the whole program, because without them, we wouldn't have a program," Taylor said. "We wouldn't have anybody to play in front of. We wouldn't have anybody to cheer us on."

Midnight Madness will start at 10 p.m. Friday night on Bigelow Boulevard after Pitt's Homecoming festivities, which will include fireworks and a laser show. The Blue-Gold Scrimmage will start at 2 p.m. Sunday following team autographs and the Maggie Dixon Heart Health Fair, which begin at noon.




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