Arizona State students have perfected the art of free throw distraction

The Dagger

Forgive Arizona State fans if they're not overly disappointed these days when their team commits a second-half foul during a home game.

Only then does the Sun Devils student section get to unleash college basketball's most creative method of free throw distraction.

Arizona State student Tim Schodt dressed as Miley Cyrus with a wrecking ball (via Arizona State)
Arizona State student Tim Schodt dressed as Miley Cyrus with a wrecking ball (via Arizona State)

When an opposing player shoots free throws toward the Arizona State student section, students seated closest to the floor will set up a pair of black curtains directly behind the basket. The Curtain of Distraction then parts to reveal an often hilarious, always weird mystery character, from a gyrating Elvis Presley, to a diaper-clad Cupid, to a pair of kissing unicorns, to Miley Cyrus with a wrecking ball.

"Some of the things that come out of that curtain, you can hear the whole crowd laughing," Arizona State senior Nick Granillo said. "You know there's no way the free throw shooter could have blocked out what's coming out. He had to have taken at least a quick peek at what it is."

The Curtain of Distraction has evolved from an audacious idea hatched by a handful students into a phenomenon that has garnered national attention. Photos and video of the costume-clad characters behind the curtain have spread quickly via social media and been picked up by NBCSports.com, FoxSports.com and ESPN's Around the Horn.

There's no denying the Curtain of Distraction has been a success either, both as a means of generating fan enthusiasm and diverting the attention of opposing free throw shooters.

An Arizona State program that has traditionally enjoyed only modest fan support set a record for student attendance against Utah last week even though the Sun Devils (9-9) were mired in a three-game losing streak entering the game. Opposing teams have also shot 71.2 percent from the foul line at the Wells Fargo Center this season when they're facing away from the student section compared to 60 percent when they're trying not to be thrown off by the curtain's cast of off-beat characters.

"Everything they've done with the curtain has been awesome and has really helped us a lot," Arizona State junior center Eric Jacobsen said. "I'm happy to see they're finally getting some recognition because I know how much work they do to get all that stuff together. The players really do appreciate it. Whoever is coming up with the ideas, they're hilarious."

The Curtain of Distraction is the brainchild of some founding members of the 942 Crew, a three-year-old student group whose mission is to increase student attendance at Arizona State basketball games and improve the in-game experience for fans. The group's name stems from the number of seats in the student section at Wells Fargo Arena.

When group leaders gathered to discuss potential ways to distract free throw shooters before the 2013-14 season, some of their initial ideas didn't make the cut. Handing out cards to the first dozen rows of students to create a funny picture? Too tough to implement. Giving students cardboard bricks to wave? Too dull. Creating cardboard cutouts and a spinning optical illusion? Too overdone.

The inspiration for the Curtain of Distraction was a viral YouTube clip one of the 942 Crew members watched of a Duke fan best known as "Speedo Guy."

When North Carolina guard Jackie Manuel stepped to the free throw line during a 2003 game in Durham, graduate student Patrick King signaled for his peers to sit quietly, stripped down to a skimpy swimsuit and then unveiled the most over-the-top dance moves in his arsenal. King only gyrated harder when Manuel clanked the first free throw, resulting in a second miss.

"That's where a lot of the credit goes to," Arizona State senior Tim Schodt said. "The student section all focused on that guy and the guy did something so ridiculous and distracting that the shooter missed the free throw. We were like, 'That's what we need to do. We need to incorporate something like that into our student section."

The innovators behind the Curtain of Distraction were initially nervous about how their idea would be received when they unveiled it early last season, but their approach proved to be an instant success.

Opposing free throw shooters started missing more frequently. Alumni donated money to fund the project. Fellow students began lending costumes or volunteering to participate. And out-of-state friends and family members called or texted after spotting videos of the antics on TV or via social media.

The most rewarding moments for the members of the 942 Crew come when they see an opponent chuckling at their high jinks.

"Sometimes we''ll catch the shooter looking at us out of the corner of his eye," Arizona State junior Anji Kumar said. "Other times we'll catch the opposing players on the bench laughing. The greatest thing is when you're behind the curtain you actually really can't see the shooter or whether he made the shots or missed them. I'm either in a mask or a horse suit or I'm jumping around and I can't see anything."

With student turnout rising, opposing free throw percentages falling and Arizona State having won all but three home games since the start of the 2013-14 season, the 942 Crew is thrilled with the impact the Curtain of Distraction is having. Current members hope it remains a staple of Arizona State basketball games for many years to come.

"It's absolutely amazing that what started as something so simple has grown into something so great," Granillo said. "It's something that no other student section in the country has done."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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