Furman superfan alumna made trip from Greece to SoCon final
With the care of a museum curator handling sacred relics, Danai Agakidou ’17 extracts from a zip-top bag the spoils of a pilgrimage she made this month from her home in Greece to Asheville, North Carolina, for the Southern Conference Men’s Basketball Championship.
One by one, she removes a piece of red confetti, a “kill time” headband, and her most prized possession, a 3-inch piece of net, which saw more rebounds, threes, twos and free throws from the Furman Paladins than their opponent in the tournament final. With a 88-79 win against Chattanooga, the Paladins earned a bid to the NCAA Division I Tournament, their first in 43 years.
Best known by her first name, Danai, who grew up in Thessaloniki going to a Greek-American high school, might be the last person you’d imagine becoming a Furman hoops superfan. Just enrolling at Furman came by chance. Her college adviser recommended the university because it met her must-haves: a smaller school where she could get involved, a strong science program and accessible professors. A scholarship, caring admissions staff and a visit to campus sealed the deal for Danai, a chemistry alumna. “The first time I saw the campus, I was blown away. I was like, ‘This is Disney World, right?’”
Never considering herself a “sports person,” things changed for Danai when her friend, Nathan Mathai ’17, invited her to a game her sophomore year at Timmons one lazy Saturday. “I fell in love with the way the team was playing. I couldn’t pick out a single star, they played as a team, they played for each other,” she said. “For me, they were absolute superstars.”
From that moment, she was all in, attending virtually every home game and selected away matches, commenting on games and encouraging the team through social media. She remembers being only one of few students in the stands amid team family members and a smattering of locals. But that only strengthened her resolve to support the squad.
Despite her unshakable devotion, she didn’t muster the courage to speak with players until her senior year. And to her great surprise, she needed no introduction.
“They knew exactly who I was because I was one of the 20 students that kept going to all their games,” she joked. “At that point, I was really excited to see that the love was mutual, and they pay attention to their fans.” Her roommate even arranged for players to show up for Danai’s 22nd birthday. “I felt like a Make-A-Wish kid that night,” she said.
Her fierce loyalty and consistent social media presence caught the attention of then newly hired Head Coach Bob Richey, who invited Danai and other students to weigh in on how to improve the fan experience. “That’s when I knew we made a good choice,” she said. “He cared about making the team better and making the program fun for everyone else.”
After graduation, Danai enrolled in a master’s program at the University of Virginia and still managed to attend some games in Greenville. She recounts the trip she made to Pennsylvania in 2018 to see the Dins roll over eighth-ranked, defending national champion Villanova in a 76-68 overtime stunner.
She returned from that game on cloud nine, basking in the glory of the historic beat down. Her UVA colleagues didn’t appreciate her zeal and dispensed a fair measure of trash talk about her beloved Paladins. Her response? “Well, let’s see, let’s watch this play out.”
And that’s what Danai is faithful to do, whether she’s physically present at a game, or watching from afar at 2 to 4 a.m. in Greece, her homebase before the SoCon Tournament.
Following the SoCon Championship victory, she found herself overcome with emotion, wandering the parquet, congratulating players. Director of Operations Tyler Eckstein ’19 gave her a small cutting from the net. “That was insane,” she said. Then, senior Jalen Slawson found her in the crowd and insisted she get a photo with the championship trophies. The photo of her, Slawson and senior Mike Bothwell holding the hardware is her new Twitter profile picture.
Reflecting on last year’s heart-rending overtime loss to Chattanooga, Danai said this year’s SoCon tourney win “was the perfect ending to the story, a full-circle moment.”
Now living in the Netherlands and starting a new life in chemical sales, she’ll continue to follow the Dins, watch the postgame interviews and comment on Twitter and other social channels, no matter the time difference.
You can bet she’ll be watching when the No. 13 seed Paladins face No. 4 seed UVA Cavaliers Thursday, March 16, in Orlando for first-round March Madness play.
“I’m just so proud of them,” she said. “This team deserves all the love and support. I believe in this team 100 percent. They’re going to make some noise, and I hope the fans make some noise, too.”
Director of News and Media Strategy