As time winds down to the second half, a new spark of energy fills the America First Events Center.
One shirtless student walks down the stairs with a big, red lightning bolt on his chest. Opposing players try not to look, knowing they will have to face this fan at every free-throw attempt in the game. His sweatpants come off to reveal a pair of red short-shorts and fishnets, and everyone is captivated by Big Thunder.
SUU basketball games have not had much hype in the last few years. Even with the team on the rise, attendance remained low. But it wasn’t long ago that a fish net, short-shorts wearing, devil-horned superfan started to change that.
Just before the start of the second half against San Diego Christian College, Jadon Lamphear, took his first step as Big Thunder.
“I just heard the crowd roar and I saw our bench get all excited.” SUU men’s basketball Head Coach Todd Simon said. “It was kind of an infusion of energy in the arena and on the sideline. That really amplified the college basketball environment. That’s the kind of stuff that makes memories for programs, for players and for fans.”
Senior guard Matt Johnson, Lamphear’s roommate for the past two years, was so hyped about Big Thunder that he had to tell his team about it.
“The first game we had him here, I told all my teammates that we had a big surprise coming,” said Johnson. “When [he] came down, the crowd went wild and our bench loved it. Everyone was looking over there. He’s been great at our games. Everyone on our team loves him.”
In the few weeks since Big Thunder made his debut, his impact has been felt. Visitors have shot a combined 125/183 second half free throws, good for 68 percent, when not playing SUU. In the SUU games, those teams have shot 30/50 for only 60 percent in Big Thunder’s presence.
“We’re so appreciative just to have the support for our team, and the school spirit,” said Simon. “[We] hope more students will want to come and be a part of that. [We] hope that [Big Thunder] is a trailblazer in that regard. In my experiences, guys that are that passionate and do that seem to always find success in life.”
Simon also believes that Lamphear is not only just a superfan, but an important part of the team.
“He’s a sixth man for us,” Simon said. “He’s part of that sixth man that influences the game, is here to be noticed and make this place a fun environment and help give us a little home court advantage.”
Even other college basketball coaches have taken notice of Big Thunder.
“I’ve had numerous friends in the industry coaching other programs, high, major teams, tell me that he is a nice addition to the program,” Simon said. “He definitely got noticed. His legend will continue to grow.”
It never crossed Lamphear’s mind that he would have this type of role for an athletic program.
“I’ve always been a fun guy and I’ve done some stuff like this, but not to this extreme,” Lamphear said. “During choir concerts I’d go up on stage dressed in a Santa suit and stuff like that. But, I never thought it would go this far and get to the level that it is now.”
Although Lamphear is mostly known around SUU for his antics behind the basket with Thunder Crew, his off court ambitions are just as impressive.
As a 20-year old sophomore, Lamphear hails from Riverton High School near Salt Lake City. Recently, he switched his major from music to communication. He has a love for radio and helps run KSUU Thunder 91.1 FM as the current student manager.
Outside of school, Lamphear’s peers call him a great friend.
“Jadon is a genuine kid,” said junior communication major Kaden Smith, who has been friends with Lamphear through band and radio the last two semesters. “He’ll tell you his mind and he is a man of his word. It’s all good intentions with him. When we’re together we have a good time. He was the one that approached me to paint [a] giant, green lightning bolt on his chest. After that, anybody’s going to be good friends with Jadon.”
Not only is Lamphear a good friend, he is a genuinely good person to be around.
“As a person, he is a really nice guy,” said Johnson. “He’s always cracking jokes and is a funny guy to be around. He’s a really personable guy and easy to get along with. He’s fun to play games with and easy to be around.”
It’s easy to see that Lamphear’s character has translated to on-the-court success. When SUU News published an article on Big Thunder last semester, it became the most read article in the website’s history over a single weekend.
When KSL Sports saw video of Big Thunder in his Santa Claus costume during the Pepperdine game, they put him on the Sunday edition of Sportsbeat, even getting long-time KSL sportscaster Rod Zundel to compose a rare tweet.
The reaction to Lamphear’s antics hasn’t been all positive, but the overall support for him has drowned out the negativity.
“I’ve gotten all kinds of reactions,” Lamphear said. “The biggest one is cheering because people love it. The basketball coaches love it. The football coaches love it. There’s also some people that say, ‘This is gross, this is disgusting, blah, blah, blah.’ But I’m trying to get people there. I’m trying to get a lot of spirit there. That’s my main goal.”
Lamphear’s friends are also excited for the possible national media exposure.
“I hope he goes viral,” Smith said. “Honestly, this could get bigger and better with t-shirts made or we see him someday on ESPN.”
Johnson is also hoping the attention Lamphear gets will translate to the continued success of the team.
“I hope Big Thunder continues to keep coming to our games and keep getting his name out there,” said Johnson. “I know I’ve seen a ton of tweets about him, articles and all that stuff. Hopefully he can keep bringing all that energy to our games and get us some features on ESPN. I think that would be awesome.”
Lamphear will continue the Big Thunder tradition at every SUU men’s basketball home game throughout the season. He is hoping to make the trip to Boise, Idaho in March to help the team win the Big Sky Conference and secure their first postseason birth since 2001.
The AFEC will continue to be a nightmare for visiting teams to play in for years to come because Lamphear also planning to get his masters degree at SUU. In the short time he has been a T-Bird, Lamphear has made an impact both on and off the court. He helps show that no matter who you are, everyone has the ability to make an impact and we all get to write our own story.
Story by Kurt Meacham
Photo Courtesy of Mitch Quartz and SUU Athletics Strategic Communication