Suns shine in front of 'home' fans

By Monty Phan

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Lute Olson was there, only instead of on the bench, he was in back of it four rows back, even, sitting in the stands.

In his place was Phoenix Suns head coach Paul Westphal, and instead of the likes of Damon Stoudamire and Ray Owes, there were Charles Barkley and Danny Manning in their places.

The NBA came to Tucson yesterday afternoon, as the Suns beat the Milwaukee Bucks in an exhibition game 99-91. The game featured a distinct Phoenix home crowd with a twist of Tucson thrown in, as the game was treated as a Suns home game.

The consensus among the players and coaches was that this was indeed a home crowd, but with Charles Barkley gracing the floor of the McKale Center, who wouldn't be excited?

"They were terrific," Barkley said. "They were really into the game, but that's no secret, there have been great crowds here for a long time."

When prompted if it felt like an NBA crowd, Barkley shrugged off the comparison, remarking that "it wasn't big enough for an NBA crowd."

Suns forward Wayman Tisdale shared his teammates sentiments, stating that though it felt like a home crowd, whether or not it was a pro-like audience was another story.

"It was a great crowd," Tisdale said. "You could tell it was a college crowd, because they cheered at pretty much everything. It was great."

Guard Danny Ainge, as one of the Suns who made a return to McKale, expressed relief at a more successful stint in Tucson. Ainge, in his days with Brigham Young University, made an appearance on the McKale hardwood during the NCAA Tournament, but "didn't have much success here." Nonetheless, the crowd was more receptive this time.

"It was great, it was a real exciting game," Ainge said. "It's always great to be in your home state and try and draw that crowd from down here, rooting for the Suns."

From the business standpoint, Suns CEO Jerry Colangelo stated that there's no reason why this should be a one-time event.

"The crowd was great," Colangelo said. "You always hope for a sellout and that kind of response, and of course it was there. There's no question that we're coming back. It would be great to have an annual preseason game here. The fans were very responsive, I think they really enjoyed the show, and we're appreciative of the support."

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