SDSU basketball celebrates historic run with fan event at Snapdragon Stadium

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

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Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

San Diego State held an event on Saturday night at Snapdragon Stadium to celebrate the men’s basketball team’s historic run to the NCAA Championship Game.

Admission and parking for the event were free to the public. While an official count of requested tickets was not provided, an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 fans attended the celebration, covering the majority of seats in the lower East section of the stadium. The stage was placed in the center of the field, facing the East sideline. 

“It’s not just San Diego State alumni, students, and boosters, it’s the city of San Diego (that) embraces us, and that feels really good,” said SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher before the start of the festivities. “With all the teams that have left (San Diego), that San Diego State is always going to be here, and we are always going to be proud to be here, and we are grateful for all the support the city gives us.” 

Jon Schaeffer, host of Jon & Jim and the Pregame and Postgame Shows for SDSU Basketball and Football on San Diego Sports 760 AM, was the MC for the event. 

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

Adam Seiko was the lone team member who did not attend. Schaeffer announced to the crowd his absence was due to being under the weather.  

The team arrived at Snapdragon Stadium around 6 pm. One by one, the players exited the bus to loud cheers from the gathered fans and took turns being interviewed by the media. All the players interacted with the fans, providing hugs and high-fives while taking selfies with them in the festive atmosphere. 

The team then proceeded through a red carpet walk into the stadium before heading onto the field for introductions. During the wait for introductions, the videoboard replayed the final four minutes of the road game against New Mexico that ended with a Lamont Butler game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer. For 35 days, it was the biggest shot of Butler’s life and the Aztecs’ season. 

The architect of the SDSU basketball resurrection, Steve Fisher, attended and spoke. His son, Mark, currently an assistant coach on the staff as he battles ALS, received the loudest standing ovation of the night when introduced. 

The last three players announced each walked to the stage holding a trophy. Aguek Arop held the NCAA South Regional trophy, Keshad Johnson the Mountain West tournament trophy, and Nathan Mensah the Mountain West regular season trophy. 

SDSU’s Athletic Director, JD Wicker, spoke first, thanking the entire athletics department, especially those behind the scenes that helped put together the ticket and travel packages for up to 4,000 school members and fans. He ended his speech by telling the players, “to those who are coming back next year, I can’t wait to do this again next year.”

Wicker was followed by three San Diego politicians. 

Nora Vargas (Chairwoman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors) officially announced April 8th, 2023, as SDSU Basketball Day in San Diego County. Sean Elo-Rivera (San Diego City Council President) remarked that a vote this week will be held at the city council to also nominate an SDSU Basketball Day for the City of San Diego.

Credit: Don De Mars / EVT Sports

Todd Gloria (Mayor of San Diego) presented Dutcher with a key to the city. No word was provided officially on what doors the key can open. SDSU fans basking in the glory of a run to the national championship game hope the key can unlock the homes of 4 and 5-star recruits that typically have not made their way to Montezuma Mesa. 

Dutcher was quick to point out that is not necessarily always the right move for SDSU.  

“We’ve had teams good enough to win the national championship, so I’m not sure how much recruiting is going to be upgraded,” he said. “It’s not about stars … we’ll be able to get into more homes, but are they the right homes?”

Another well-publicized angle that would give a boost to recruiting is conference realignment, and SDSU is reportedly at the top of the wish list for potential expansion in the Pac-12 or Big-12. 

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

Perhaps the most eye-opening comment during the celebration came from SDSU President Adela De La Torre, who concluded her speech with yet another subtle implication from a school official that a Power 5 Conference invite is coming. 

“Who knows, in the near future, we may be somewhere else,” she said. 

Ted Leitner, the Aztecs’ radio play-by-play man for football and basketball, introduced Steve Fisher, which led to a standing ovation. Some members of the crowd were seen wiping tears away, understanding the crucial role Fisher played to reach a night of celebration. 

Fisher immediately thanked the fans for their support throughout the 24 years he has been associated with the program and how this moment would not be possible without them.

“We owe you a debt of gratitude,” he exclaimed. “Our first game (in 1999), we had more band (members), cheerleaders, (and) auxiliary staff than we had fans (in attendance). Now it has grown exponentially where we have sold out crowds.”

Former SDSU basketball player and coach Tony Bland was in attendance wearing Kawhi Leonard’s #15 Aztecs jersey. In an interview with EVT prior to the start of the event, Bland echoed Fisher’s sentiments, reflecting on the fact that he saw more fans at Saturday night’s event than there would be attending games at Viejas Arena back when the program was just getting started under Fisher. 

Dutcher praised Fisher for being the architect and leading the way for the program to reach new heights. 

“It was his vision of greatness that we strive to meet,” said Dutcher. “It was a long road, but 24 years later, we achieved it. But we (have) another step to go; we have one more game to win in March, and that’s our goal.” 

Technically, the Aztecs won all eight games they played in March of 2023. The championship game was played on April 3rd.

To conclude the festivities, four players came to the podium and spoke on the historic run with segmented highlights of the season played in between. 

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

Senior forward Keshad Johnson led the crowd to a chant of “Team on 3, Family on 6” while also being serenaded with “One More Year” chants from the crowd. Johnson has one additional year of eligibility remaining but reiterated to the media on Saturday night that he has yet to make a decision and all three options (returning to SDSU, transferring to another school, or turning pro) are still on the table for him. 

Senior forward Aguek Arop praised the five walk-ons on this year’s team who worked tirelessly behind the scenes on the scout team and did not get the recognition that the rest of the team received. 

Senior guard Matt Bradley told the crowd he thought the Aztecs were the best team in the country despite the loss in the national championship game, noting, “we live in San Diego, not Connecticut.”

Finally, junior guard Lamont Butler, who received the largest applause of any player due to his buzzer-beating jumper to beat Florida Atlantic, used his time at the podium to thank the student managers, his teammates, and coaches while describing the families and friends of the players as “the backbone” of the team. 

“We’ve been through a lot these past couple of years, but I love them to death,” said Butler when speaking about his own parents. “They are going to be with me throughout my whole journey, and I can’t express how much I love them.”     

While the backbone of this year’s team may have been family of friends, the backbone of the SDSU program is built on the players and staff that came before the current players, like Bland, who fought hard with Fisher and Dutcher in the early 2000s to resurrect a dormant basketball school. 

When asked why it was important for him to come out and support the program at this event, Bland referenced the family culture of the program. “That’s what we preach when we are recruiting (and) bringing people here,” he added. “For it to be 100 plus players that at some point (were) involved in this run, we want everyone to know that we really mean what we say.”

Dutcher’s summary of the culture was even more straightforward. 

“We (have) good students, we (have) good people, and we (have) good players, and that’s why we have the program we have.”

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