As Pitt prepares to host Seton Hall this weekend, let’s attempt to roll back the clock exactly one decade. The Pittsburgh Panthers are hosting the hot 15th ranked Seton Hall Pirates at the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse on January 13, 2001. A few students are excited by new coach Ben Howland. They decide what the upstart Panthers really need is some student support. They form the Oakland Zoo.
Freshman Julius Page steps up for men’s basketball, Panthers move to 10-5.
PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh hadn’t beaten a ranked opponent under second-year coach Ben Howland. Now that they’ve done it once, they’ll get a lot more opportunities to do it again.
Not only was it the first big win for the Howland-Dixon coaching squad, it was the humble beginning of one of the country’s greatest student sections. In just ten years, the Oakland Zoo has grown from a handful of kids to thousands of fans. The introduction of the Zoo shirt has made Pitt’s unusual “Vegas Gold” hue a recognizable symbol of the University.
The ascension of the basketball team has come hand-in-hand with the rise of the Zoo. The fans have always supported the team, and the team has always given the fans a reason to cheer. When Jamie Dixon took over as head coach, the program didn’t miss a beat. The team continued to make the NCAA tournament, and the expectation for success has been raised even higher. Likewise, when Matt Cohen and the original Zoo founders graduated, other students were ready to leave their own mark on Pitt’s student section. Not content to simply cheer anymore, the Zoo has helped lure football recruits, and been an active participant in local charities.
It seems appropriate for both the team and the Zoo, that in the second year of Nike sponsorship, not only has Pitt been outfitted with the “Hyper Elite” uniforms, but the jerseys proudly sport an Oakland Zoo logo. Jamie and his players seem to always appreciate the support of the fans, and surely Pitt’s gaudy 143-11 record at the Petersen Events Center speaks to the shared success of the team and the Zoo.
Michigan State’s Hyper Elite features a giant Spartan helmet. UConn’s features a large image of their husky mascot. Obviously, it shows what the Zoo means to Pitt to be featured similarly.
The new jerseys are supposed to premiere on Big Monday against Syracuse, in what will be one of the most anticipated games ever at the Pete. The contest could likely be the deciding factor for this year’s conference title. Pitt has already sold some standing-room only tickets, so a packed and raucous crowd is obvious.
Before we focus on Syracuse and being elite, let’s remember our humble beginnings. Let’s make sure to beat Seton Hall.
After all, that’s how this whole thing started.