Before Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart shoved a fan in the stands at Texas Tech, Missouri coach Frank Haith had already talked to his players about the need to block out vulgarity and vitriol spewed by the occasional fan.
Smart served a three-game suspension after shoving super fan Jeff Orr during a Feb. 8 game in Lubbock, Texas. The Cowboys went 0-3 without their leading scorer.
The Tigers, 18-7 and 6-6 in the SEC, playing at Mississippi that day, prompting a preemptive warning from Haith.
“To be honest with you, we had a conversation right before that even happened,” Haith said. “We were going to Ole Miss and you say, ‘Guys, listen, you’ve got to put your blinders on and focus on listening to what is in our huddle and what’s going on here on the court.’”
Haith doesn’t think such behavior from a minority of fans is anything new, but he said it has become more prevalent — particularly at the college level.
“I don’t think it’s changed,” Haith said. “I think it’s always been what it is. I think that social media has changed. We hear a lot of stuff. It’s a tough deal.”
Much tougher in basketball perhaps than any other sport.
Fans aren’t as close to the action in football and crowds for many other sports are as large and rowdy at the college level.
“We’re different than any other sport, because of the proximity of the fans and the players,” Haith said. “You can hear everything. … It’s very, very difficult, but I think you must (block it out). You have to focus on what you can control and that’s how you play and how we coach.”
Certainly, a player or coach can’t let frustration boil over into the stands.
“I was surprised,” Missouri junior Jordan Clarkson said of Smart’s altercation. “I haven’t seen anybody act like that before in a college basketball game. Maybe his emotions just got out of hand. From what I hear, he’s a great kid. He just made a mistake and he’s got to live with the consequences.”
Of course, there is another option — skip frustration altogether and use the overzealousness as fuel.
“It’s kind of fun to hear fans talk a lot, especially on the road,” said Tigers junior Jabari Brown, who averages 20.1 points per game on the road. “Because when you’re able to hit shots and stuff like that, they can’t really say anything and have to be quiet. That’s one of the reasons I like playing on the road. It’s kind of an us-against-the-world kind of thing.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.