University of South Florida


Coach Amir stands among a sea of fans, a sign reads Amir's Army

USF men’s basketball coach fuels unprecedented fan engagement

By Donna Smith, University Communications and Marketing

On a cool February morning, USF men’s basketball coach Amir Abdur-Rahim strolled into the Starbucks in the Tampa campus library and announced that, since his team kept fans up until midnight the night before, he was buying coffee for everyone in line. The gesture is one of many ways that USF’s new coach has been sparking excitement for the team and cultivating a whole new crop of Bulls basketball fans.

"My father was a clergyman in Atlanta, and almost everything he did for the community started in that grassroots type of space,” Abdur-Rahim said. “There’s a ton of value in building our fanbase that same way, because you can build something really special like what we have now.”

Abdur-Rahim has also helped spur interest in the team by getting out on campus and engaging with students, doling out free ice cream sandwiches or donuts at the Marshall Student Center and dashing out into a rainy evening to shake hands with fans waiting in line before a game.

coach hands out donuts

“It is just important for me, my staff and our student-athletes to let our campus know that we're part of the campus – not separate from it – and we want to contribute in a positive way,” Abdur-Rahim said.

Ari Thibeault, a freshman studying exercise science, said she believes his efforts are getting more students excited about Bulls basketball.

“More students are showing up and getting passionate about the game,” Thibeault said. “Once they meet the coach and talk to him, they feel like they have a personal connection to the team.”

Abdur-Rahim became the 11th coach in Bulls basketball history in March 2023, after three seasons as head coach at Kennesaw State. While there, he led a turnaround season very similar to the one the Bulls are experiencing this year.

As Abdur-Rahim has guided the team to their first regular season conference title in program history and the second-longest active win streak in the NCAA this season, Bulls fans have responded: The 10,500-seat Yuengling Center arena sold out for the first time in 20 years for the game against Florida Atlantic University, then again the following home game against Southern Methodist University. The back-to-back sellouts were a first in program history.

coach parties with a crowd of students

Tyler Moss, a senior majoring in public relations and advertising, is one of the leaders of the SoFlo Rodeo, the official student section of USF men’s and women’s basketball. He says that, combined with the SoFlo Rodeo’s efforts, Abdur-Rahim has been instrumental in getting more than 3,000 students into the Yuengling Center’s student section for this season’s home games – a new high.

“I truly believe that if we can consistently put that many kids in that stadium, chanting and involved, I don’t think we can lose.”

As the team prepares for its final home game on Tuesday, March 5 against Tulane, Abdur-Rahim looks forward to ramping up the already frenetic energy.

coach shakes hands with unseen person in crowd

“When I first came to USF, I kept hearing about how the Sun Dome (now the Yuengling Center) was full of energy,” Abdur-Rahim said. “All I could think was, ‘We’re going to get the Yuengling Center rocking in that same way.’”

USF junior Kyle Muffoletto says he appreciates everything Abdur-Rahim has done to contribute to the vibe he’s feeling around campus.

“He’s done an amazing job,” Muffoletto said. “It’s such a unique time, and it really takes all of us to come together and make this kind of excitement.”

To learn more about Abdur-Rahim’s journey to USF and his coaching philosophy, check out Inside USF: The Podcast. Note: The episode was recorded prior to the start of the fall basketball season.

Photos courtesy of SoFloRodeo

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