ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The way Bob Starkey sees it, he can't simply be an assistant coach for the UCF's women's basketball team. Working to grow the game of women's basketball is as much a part of his job as analyzing the X's and O's.
That's why earlier in the season Starkey was behind the creation of UCF's UKNIGHT for Education game -- one where a school-record crowd of 2,178 fans saw the Knights whip Southern Miss 65-47.
Now, Starkey is pushing "Pack the House" on Sunday for UCF's 2 p.m. matchup against UAB. UCF hopes to break the attendance record again while giving away some incredible incentives to fans.
In addition to free admission, two fans will have a chance to win a 2012 Buick Verano courtesy of Carl Black, and one student will have a chance to win a $10,000 prize. Other in-game prizes include EA Sports prize packs, an iPod Touch, free Buffalo Wild Wings for a year and B2 Café prizes. All items will be given away through on-court contests and trivia.
Starkey left SEC-powerhouse LSU for UCF last summer, and one of his missions is to broaden the UCF women's brand throughout the Central Florida area. He had huge success at LSU in attracting more fans to games through various promotions, and he's hoping to do the same at UCF.
It's all being done, Starkey stressed, with the purpose of helping women's basketball become a more popular sport. Starkey has always taken serious his role as an ambassador for the sport, and he is hoping basketball fans in Orlando will give the UCF women's basketball program a look.
"I think on the women's side, winning is important, but it should also be a priority of the coaches to grow the sport,'' Starkey said. "Men's basketball has been around a long time and there is great interest generated by the sport all over the country. But women's basketball is still growing and moving forward. I think that it's incumbent on us coaches to be involved in that process and not just sit back and put in on marketing's shoulders. We have to be involved.''
That's why Starkey is getting UCF's players involved in the community and across campus like never before. The women's team will be at the men's game Wednesday night passing out free tickets to Sunday's game. Starkey also arranged for the team to sign autographs at the Oviedo Mall on Friday.
"Skip Bertman, the baseball coach at LSU, taught some of us in other sports how to create access because fans love access,'' Starkey said. "We can take our kids out in public and get them involved in community projects and let people get to know our student-athletes as people. And when that happens they will fall in love with them because they are great kids.''
For the UKNIGHT for Education game, special bookmarks were sent to local Orange County schools, which allowed them free admittance to a women's basketball game. That initiative helped the Knights attract their largest crowd of 2,178 - more than four times the average crowd at the 15 home games so far this season.
But Starkey said the UKNIGHT for Education game served more of a purpose than just one game and a new attendance record.
"A big part of the bookmark game was developing a year-long relationship with the school board where our student-athletes will go into the schools and volunteer for whatever the teachers need - whether that's reading to the kids, participating in PE or painting a room,'' he said. "We're going to get involved in those things. We're going to be proactive in getting our team out and letting the public know them.''
After all, Starkey said it's as important for UCF's players to be role models as it is for them to be successful on the court. It's a message that UCF's coaching staff preaches every day to the team.
"Being a basketball player is secondary; the person that you are is much more important,'' Starkey said. "Coach Williams harps on that daily by giving them short messages before practice or after practice. It's critical to her that we turn out quality people, and it starts with her and her example. That translates into being a successful basketball player, too. The better the person, the better the player.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.