The Longhorn faithful had been lively since the early morning. They arrived in droves with creative signs, uproarious chants and unwavering support for Texas before its sellout matchup with No. 12 Oklahoma on Saturday evening.
ESPN’s College GameDay crew of Rece Davis, Jay Williams, Seth Greenberg and Jay Bilas broadcasted their show live from the Frank Erwin Center in the morning, hours prior to Texas’ highly anticipated matchup with Trae Young and the Sooners.
“I’m with three smart alecks up there,” Williams said. “Jay Bilas always comes back with zingers, and Rece is the guy that sets you up for failure sometimes if you don’t pay attention to how he sets you up. That’s what happens when you’re part of a team. Guys play practical jokes. We’re around each other 24/7, so it’s great.”
College GameDay made its third visit to Austin. Texas won each of the previous two games. On Saturday evening, Texas did it again. This time, the Longhorns erased a 10-point second-half deficit to upset the Sooners, 79-74, behind a game-high 22 points from freshman guard Matt Coleman.
After settling into town, Greenberg and Davis were excited to eat Austin barbecue, Bilas looked forward to the local tacos but the entire crew wondered what the atmosphere would look like come Saturday morning.
“It’s one of the great cities of any of the college campuses that we go to,” Davis said. “Everybody here is always really hospitable to us. It’s going to create a great environment for both the show and the game.”
Davis and the GameDay crew challenged Texas fans to wake up early and pack the Erwin Center for the televised broadcast after they struggled to generate a massive audience during ESPN’s last visit in 2009. The turnout on Saturday morning exceeded expectations, as hundreds of students formed lines outside the entrances hours before the show commenced.
“It doesn’t matter to us how many people come,” Bilas said. “We love to have more rather than less. But for us, it’s more of the game and covering the game. We do the show for people at home, but there’s always a flavor of where we are.”
One major reason ESPN headed to Austin was to discuss the marquee matchup between two of the nation’s top freshmen. Texas center Mo Bamba and Oklahoma point guard Trae Young would share an arena for the first of two times during the 2017–18 season.
“(I want to see) if Trae can score 40,” Davis said. “He’s must-see TV. And I want to see if any shot in the paint off the hand of an Oklahoma player makes it to the basket without being swatted away by Mo Bamba.”
Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte was present, along with defensive end Charles Omenihu, and the two dispensed donuts and coffee to attendees. Students also received free “Boom AJ1” T-shirts, similar to Texas’ warm-up apparel in support of sophomore guard Andrew Jones as he continues his fight with leukemia.
At the conclusion of the broadcast, Jay Williams ripped off his suit to reveal a Jones jersey underneath. Williams rallied the crowd with an “An-DREW, An-DREW” chant. Earlier in the show, a Tom Rinaldi feature on Jones’ diagnosis and illness was displayed on the video board. The tear-jerking segment included emotional interviews from Texas head coach Shaka Smart and several of Jones’ close teammates.
“I’m wearing a burnt orange tie in honor of Andrew Jones,” Greenberg said. “It’s amazing how this team has been able to stay together without one of their own. I did the Texas-Alabama game in Birmingham when Andrew was out. He sat with me for two days in practice, and I was blown away by him as a human being.”