HOUSTON — The University of Houston men’s basketball team played their first game in the NCAA Tournament Friday, bringing huge excitement for the school seeing their favorite team on the big screen.
“We did not have this 20 years ago, that’s for sure," former student Juan Morales said.
The team is back in the bracket once again.
“The University of Houston has been slept on, and that time is over," alumna Nancy Flores said.
“We’re all getting excited every time somebody’s like, 'Hey, look, they could be in the Final Four,'" said Pam Kehoe, UH associate athletic director for fan engagement and marketing.
The Cougars are experiencing their best run since the 1980 days of Phi Slama Jama when the team went to three-straight NCAA Final Fours.
“When you have programs like this, it increases the engagement of students to be on campus, to be involved in the campus," Flores said.
And with the team thrust back in the national spotlight, so is the school.
“I feel like UH doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. This is a chance to get our name out there, to improve recruitment, get additional funding," Flores said.
And each time they advance to a new stage, it adds another level of excitement and attention.
“It helps with recruiting students to student athletes, to just making the program much more known," Kehoe said.
“Back when I was going there, it was parking lots, parking lots, parking lots. Now, there’s buildings and parking garages. So that means it’s growing so big that students are actually wanting to come here," Morales said.
The national spotlight not only entices new students, but it even invigorates the alumni to become involved again in their university.
“To come back as alumni, support the programs, be donors, be season ticket donors, that’s what this kind of thing does for our school," Flores said.
But it’s excitement that fuels not just a school, but an entire city.