University of South Florida


A packed stadium surrounding a basketball court

USF’s basketball renaissance unites and excites a community of fans

By Donna Smith, University Communications and Marketing

 a woman reacts to a great play with a crowd behind her

Longtime fans, new fans and fans in the making filled the Yuengling Center to capacity Tuesday night for the USF men’s basketball team’s last home game of the season. The diverse crowd came from all walks of life on senior night to watch the Bulls beat Tulane University 85-72. Their ages ranged widely, and their dress varied: some painted their bodies; some sported wigs or vintage jerseys, others dressed in their best. No matter their differences, they all came together for a shared purpose: to celebrate their team’s first-ever American Athletic Conference championship and see what comes next.

The historic season created a fervor that sold out the Yuengling Center for the third home game in a row. USF came into the game 22-5 overall and 15-1 in AAC play, and with the victory, the Bulls extended their winning streak to 15 – the longest in program history and currently the longest in the NCAA.

  • The energy remained high throughout the game.

  • The energy remained high throughout the game.

  • The energy remained high throughout the game.

  • The energy remained high throughout the game.

  • The energy remained high throughout the game.

Tom Bell has been working security for USF basketball games for the past 10 years. He said with the last three home games selling out the Yuengling Center, his job has certainly been more exciting. 

“The energy in the building has changed this year,” Bell said. “The fans, the students, the staff, everyone – we’re all loving it.”

Some come for basketball – and a party. USF junior Jaxson Tanski, a Herd of Thunder trombone player, said games have always been fun, even before they started selling out. 


Jaxson Tanski (center) dances with fellow Herd of Thunder members. 

“The start of this season wasn’t anything unusual, not so much attendance, but everyone has always brought the energy,” Tanski said. “But ever since the Yuengling Center started selling out, it has been 100 percent, 24/7 fun.” 

Though it is an unmistakable party, complete with a roaring crowd, painted bodies and curious props in the SoFlo Rodeo section, Melody and Moe Rendahl come to support the student-athletes. Even though both went to other universities, the Rendahls have donated to USF athletics programs for 40 years and Melody served as president of USF’s Athletic Association in the late 1980s. Through thick and thin, they have held season tickets.

“We love basketball, and some seasons are tough,” Melody said. “But this year, the right coach has been hired. He is a man of deep integrity, he has respect for his athletes, and they have it for him.”


Moe and Melody Rendahl


Wanda and Larry Fahnestock

David and Sheryl Rhodes

Sheri and David Rhodes

Some fans have seen the basketball program unfold from its beginnings. Larry Fahnestock graduated from USF in 1972. He and his wife, Wanda, have had season tickets for the past 12 years, but Fahnestock was at the very first USF basketball game in 1971. 

“We drive more than an hour each way from Winter Haven to games, and we travel to away games, because we love the sport. I even enjoy the ball game when we’re getting beaten,” Fahnestock said. “Our friends come, and we laugh and enjoy.”

Fahnestock’s friend, David Rhodes, said while he didn’t go to USF, he’s been coming to games for decades and this men’s basketball season has been special.

“I grew up in the area, so I’ve been a fan since USF opened,” Rhodes said. “This season, they have some very exciting players, and the coach pulled them together and they’ve learned how to win.”

Zanaria Wiliams, 18, a senior at Enterprise High School in Clearwater, has been watching the games on the television behind the concession counter where she has worked all season.

“I love men’s and women’s basketball, the cheerleaders, the whole thing,” Wiliams said. “I love supporting them, and it’s been great to see so how many people come out, compared to the beginning of the season.”  

After the win, USF men’s basketball coach Amir Abdur-Rahim and his team celebrated with their trophy and took turns ceremoniously cutting down the net. When the roar of the crowd calmed and the gleaming green and silver confetti that filled the air during the post-game celebration lay at the feet of the champions, smiling fans began to go back to their lives, thinking of what is possible for this turnaround team. 

maceo and nicholas

Nicholas Sciscento and his son, Maceo (Left);  Zanaria Wiliams (Right)

Nicholas Sciscento and his son, Maceo, 13, took one last selfie with the scoreboard behind them – Maceo wearing a jersey that Nicholas had bought for himself while he was in school at USF. 

“No one expected this team to come in here and do what they’re doing now,” Nicholas said. “I remember being able to walk up five minutes before the game and get a ticket. To see this one, I had to go on StubHub, but I wanted to make sure Maceo’s first game was from this season. It has been incredible.”

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