My favorite memory of the 2022-23 basketball season is when No.1 Houston faced off against No. 8 Alabama at the Fertitta Center. It was the best home-court energy I have experienced in my 2.5 years at UH.
My photo assistant at the time, Anh Le, and I arrived at Fertitta Center early to ensure we got a good spot on the court to get the shots we wanted.
Immediately we could tell it would be an intense afternoon, as we were not the only ones who came early. The media was already swarming the court—everything from reporters to television crews to writers to other photographers.
Soon after we arrived, the doors opened to the fans 30 minutes earlier than usual, and before we knew it, the stadium was filled. We quickly got our spot, sat down, and began shooting as the game tipped off.
As a photographer, you are about as close to the players and coaches as anyone, aside from the referees. So you hear everything, see everything, and most of all, feel everything.
This game had it all. You could hear the roaring Houston crowd, you saw big plays like Jamal Shead’s posterizing dunk above, and of course, you felt an abundance of emotion from when the biggest game of the season tipped off to its conclusion.
Celebrities were in attendance and added to the excitement of the afternoon. Rockets guards Jalen Green and KJ Martin were in attendance next to Tilman Fertitta, and later joining them would be rookie forward Jabari Smith Jr. of the Rockets as well.
More famous faces in attendance included Cougar legend and NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon and even former Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, who I was lucky enough to catch after the game to meet and grab a picture with.
The game was a battle, with the Cougars jumping out to a big lead early and looking like they would win easily, but the Crimson Tide battled and eventually came back and won it.
Regardless of the outcome, the energy was unmatched compared to any UH game I have ever been to, as a fan or media, and above all, I was proud of my school. It showed just how far this program has come regarding fandom and quality of play, as Alabama proved to be a much more worthy opponent as the season went on.
In the final AP Poll, Alabama finished #1, and Houston finished #2.