In his press conference Friday afternoon, Bob Huggins was asked if he’d be approaching Mountaineer Madness later that night as some sort of a evaluation of his new players.
“Nah, we’re just going to have fun.”
Mission: Accomplished. About 6,000 curious fans flooded into the Coliseum last night for the official beginning to the basketball season at West Virginia University. Players and coaches from the men’s and women’s teams were available from 8-9 p.m. and the Coliseum floor was covered the entire hour with long lines waiting to get a word with and a signature from their Mountaineers. In the meantime, two movie theater screens behind the home basket showed highlight videos from last season.
Finally, the floor was cleared, though Huggins stayed to the very end and signed every last item put before him. At 9 o’clock sharp, the pep band hit the fight song, complete with a casual cameo by Ryan J. Boyd.
Then the fun began…
9:03–You’ll remember the halftime contest where competitors dribble from one side of the court to the other and have five seconds to score. Last night, Papa John’s was offering a year’s supply of pizza for winners. The second contestant was David Graham, who when he announced he was from New Jersey, was booed lustily by the audience. GrahamÂ made a layup to win the pizza, then offered a “salute” do his adoring fans. Fortunately, Mindy Hannon, who said she was from West Virginia, followed with a more satisfactory win by canning a short jumper as time expired.
9:05–Papa John’s announces a large pizza will now cost $49.99.
9:06–First appearance by the dance team. Um, it’s preseason for them, too.
9:15–The women’s team is introduced and by virtue of alphabetical order, Meg Bulger is second. Her left knee is wrapped underneath a brace, but it doesn’t look like she could be happier. Ashley Powell, the point guard with unmistakable instincts, is later announced and makes her first bad pass of the season. Her T-shirt toss into the crowd hits a seated, unsuspecting fan right in the face. Coach Mike Carey is last and he’s visibly startled when a cheerleader extends her pom-pom for Carey to shake.
9:19–Carey gets a microphone and addresses theÂ audience.
“See this crowd we have tonight. ThisÂ is what I expect for our women’s games this year.”Â
9:21–The men’s team is introduced and they enter by class. Cam Thoroughman, who is recovering from a left knee inury, wears a brace, too, and his leg looks fine. His arm, however, needs work. His T-shirt toss doesn’t come within 10 feet of the crowd. Wellington Smith tries for a cartwheel in his entrance, but settles for a roundabout. Joe Alexander enters slowly and soaks in the cheers … then takes off his shorts and throws them to the crowd and follows that by doing the same with his jersey. Fortunately, he had on a second layer. Darris Nichols is last and the normally reserved point guardÂ approaches his teammates before stopping and spreading out his arms and legs. Ted Talkington hurries over and patsÂ Nichols down.
Already, you can tell this team is going to be entertaining.Â
9:27–Huggins is about to be introduced when we’re directed to the theater screens and special messages. The first, honest to God, is from Mike Jordan. The crowd is stunned and legitimately does not know how to react.
“Bobby, congrats. Don’t call me for anything.”
Next is Nick Lachey, an ardent Huggins supporter who has now changed his colors, but not his allegiances.
“The moment you hired Bob Huggins, I became a fan. I’ll be seeing you at a game real soon.”Â
Dick Vitale was next and he, too, was booed, before Clark Kellog finished the segment. Perhaps KellogÂ put it best when he said “Some of you may not know who I am.” Yet the CBS analyst did manage to close in crowd-pleasing manner.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun because this guy wins. All he does is win. Welcome to Huggstown.”
9:35–The two-ball competition was next in which a player from the men’s team and the women’s team plus a fan tried to see who could sore the most points in 60 seconds while shooting from three different spots on the floor — at the basket, at the foul line and at the 3-point line. The team of Nichols, Bulger and Joe Scaglione defeated Alex Ruoff, LaQuita Owens and Matt Kelly, 36-29. Scaglione had a good plan.
“Keep it close to the basket.”
9:44–We arrive at the dunk contestÂ before the team scrimmages, probably so the dunkers have their legs. Our judges are Silver Fox Jay Jacobs, Morgantown mayor Ron Justice, Carey, WVU President Mike Garrison and former UNLV and St. Louis coach Charlie Spoonhour. Our four competitors are Smith, DaSean Butler and John Flowers. Tony Caridi asks who the audience wants as the fourth and there is a chant for “Joe.”
Joe Mazzulla stands up and accepts the invitation, only to be denied when Alexander appears ready for takeoff.
Flowers is first and he has to make two dunks in 60 seconds. He uses Will Thomas as a prop and sits his fellow freshman in a chair in front of the basket with a ball in his lap. As Flowers jumps over Thomas, Thomas flips a pass into the air and Flowers finishes with a dunk. His second is a bounce off the shot clock and a two-handed dunk. Flowers receives four 9s.
Remember, this is a John Beilein recruit.Â
Smith’s repertoire is less exciting and a flat-footed reverse from behind the basket is the highlight as he gets four 8s. The best part is learning his teammates call him “Fresh Prince.” Butler follows with a nice reverse among his two dunks to get three 9s and an eight from Carey.
Alexander follows … he obviously gets four 10s.
In the finals, we see Flowers vs. Alexander … plus a surprise. Sadly, it was not Nichols, who had been very confident he’d win. Instead, it was Yinka Sanni and Lateefah Joye from the women’s team.
Georgeanne WellsÂ would not have been pleased. Sanni and Joye were kind of close early, but lost their legs after a few attempts. Flowers tried to catch a pass from Thomas, who was seated in a section behind the basket, but the two could not connect and Flowers ran out of time.
Alexander then took over and it was so good that, after 24 seconds, Wellington Smith just couldn’t keep his shorts on any longer.