Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said he’s surprised that it hasn’t happened more.
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo admitted he will be surprised if it doesn’t happen more frequently as social media continues to become a big part of college basketball.
Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart was suspended three games for shoving a Texas Tech fan during a game Saturday and the incident has prompted coaches around the country to reflect on how to best deal with the hostile atmospheres they encounter in arenas in almost every game.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about that in the past day,’’ McCaffery admitted Monday on the Big Ten coaches’ weekly teleconference.
McCaffery said he hasn’t ever addressed the topic of interaction with fans with his players other than to generally encourage them to control their emotions on the court. There occasionally have been games where he warned them about what they might encounter in terms of fan hostility.
“A lot of times it’s rivalry games where you get there and they’re on you early and it’s personal,’’ he said. “They know your girlfriend’s name and family members ...
"I’ve been around awhile and I’ve seen a lot of stuff, and I’m shocked that this is the first time something like this has happened.’’
Big Ten coaches said the advent of social media has intensified the situation throughout their sport.
Northwestern coach Chris Collins referred to a “constant accessibility’’ fans now have to the athletes through avenues such as Twitter.
“Fans can get to players in more ways than just showing up at games,’’ he said. “I think people feel they have a bigger freedom of speech to talk to the players because they can do it in more forums and I think that’s made it more dangerous.’’
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said players now not only need to deal with fans for the few hours they’re on the court.
“The fact now is that they can’t ever get away from it,’’ Izzo said. “That’s doing more damage than the fan in the stands.’’
He noted that even after games, the players can’t help but be exposed to what others think of them.
“Telling them not to read it is like telling them not to breathe …’’ he said.
“Talk radio you can shut off. The newspaper you can just not read it. But you can’t not look at your phone.’’
Of course, fans showering abuse on players at college basketball games is nothing new, especially when the players come into close proximity with antagonistic fans.
Smart committed a foul in the final minute of Oklahoma State’s 65-61 loss at Texas Tech on Saturday. His momentum carried him into a group of Tech fans behind the basket. As he was helped to his feet, one man called Smart “a piece of crap’’ and Smart shoved him. He was assessed a technical foul and later suspended by the Big 12.
Smart and the fan, Jeff Orr, both have issued apologies for what occurred.
Most Big Ten coaches said all they really can do is tell their players to keep their cool and ignore the fans.
“You don’t respond to them,’’ Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “That’s the best way to handle it, maybe the only way to go about it. They bought a ticket, they paid to be there and they can say what they want ... You just have to ignore them and keep your focus on the game.’’
Indiana coach Tom Crean said he thinks the Smart incident will prompt almost every coach to revisit the topic.
"I’m sure that every coach in the country is going to be reminding their team of it today, if they didn’t yesterday,’’ he said.
The coaches also admitted that possibly more could be done to restrict student sections that have become adept at targeting opposing players.
They want fans to be loud and supportive of their teams but to do it in a positive way.
Collins spent his playing career and most of his coaching career at Duke, where the Cameron Crazies are notorious for their creativity in getting under the skin of opponents.
“I remember numerous times when (Coach Mike Krzyzewski), if he heard them start to chant something or say something to someone on the other team that was out of line, he would try to nip it in the bud,’’ Collins said.
Crean suggested that more fans who become abusive should be removed from the premises.
“We’ve just got to learn how to handle it, how to deal with it,’’ Izzo said, “because it probably ain’t going away.’’