There’s a basketball buzz humming around the University of San Diego campus, and if you don’t believe it, try to find a parking spot 30 minutes before Monday’s 8:05 p.m. tipoff against Gonzaga.

The 5,100-seat Jenny Craig Pavilion is sold out.

This is what USD athletic director Ky Snyder had in mind when he didn’t renew Brad Holland’s contract last year and hired Bill Grier, an assistant the past 16 years at Gonzaga, a national power and West Coast Conference rival.

The Toreros have won seven straight and face Gonzaga in a game for first place in the WCC standings that will be featured on ESPN2’s “Big Monday” telecast.

Anyone that says San Diego isn’t a good basketball team didn’t live here in the 1978-79 season when the San Diego Clippers were only 43-39 yet averaged nearly 9,000 fans at the Sports Arena.

That may not sound like a big crowd in today’s NBA world, but this was back in the pre-Magic Johnson/Larry Bird days — when the league fought a drug-infest image — and that was considered a healthy attendance average.

World B. Free, Randy Smith and Freeman Williams were a prolific guard combination that brought crowds to their feet. They were fun to watch.

But then Donald Sterling ran the franchise into the ground so he had an excuse to move it to Los Angeles. Subsequently measuring San Diego by the failed minor-league basketball franchises — and bad ones at that — in the recent past isn’t an accurate gauge. San Diegans don’t do minor-league sports, unless its hockey.

There was nothing to really see the past two decades, but that’s changing now.

Steve Fisher has shown he can build a basketball program at San Diego State that is worth following, although Kyle Spain’s suspension has sidetracked this season’s momentum.

Now USD is building a program with Grier, starting with two talented juniors he inherited.

USD junior forward/center Gyno Pomare, a El Camino High alumnus, is one of the best big men on the West Coast.

Brandon Johnson, a 6-foot guard, is one of the best athletes in town and works well with Pomare as an inside-outside combination.

Three weeks ago, USD upset No. 21-ranked St. Mary’s on Jan. 28 at the JCP. In the past, a less talented Toreros team might have wasted the momentum, but USD has won four straight since then to set up tonight’s game.

There are still holes in USD’s lineup, but that’s hasn’t prevented a buzz for Monday’s Gonzaga game. If you were here in 1978-79, you would know better than to say San Diego isn’t a basketball town.


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