Midnight Madness pumps crowd for upcoming season

Midnight Madness welcomed the 2001-02 basketball season with a far different approach than last year’s high-octane fireworks spectacular. With only two outside performers scheduled, the show’s organizers sought to redirect the focus to basketball. There was a focused attempt on player-student interaction, with players from both teams crossing over court lines and roaming through the crowds.

Students said the countdown to the official start of practice was marked with more spirit than recent years. Aside from a group of high-flying trampoline dunk artists known as the Daredevils and Village People impersonator Christopher, the show’s festivities revolved around the men’s and women’s teams.

“It’s all about GW,” Ben Posner said at the event. “None of that juggling crap or fireworks. It was all GW-oriented; it was awesome.”

Students did not have to wait long to see the teams. Freshmen Tamal Forchion and T.J. Thompson, sophomore Darnell Miller, seniors Jaason Smith and Albert Roma of the men’s team and sophomores Alexis Darling, Demetria Tipps, Ugo Oha and Marsheik Witherspoon and senior Elena Vishniakova of the women’s team came out on the floor early to pluck game contestants from the crowd. Students attempted to toss a Frisbee into a slit the width of a mail slot from across the court for $25,000.

With about 15 minutes remaining before midnight, each coach addressed the audience and thanked fans for supporting GW basketball. Women’s head coach Joe McKeown, who welcomed the start of his 13th year with the team in buff-colored warm-ups and a navy blue GW sweatshirt, walked to the student section saying, “I got a challenge for you,” encouraging support as the Colonials prepare for a Nov. 27 home-court bout with top-ranked University of Tennessee.

“In the last two years on this court, we are 30-1,” McKeown said. “And I’m gonna need every student here Tuesday night, the 27th.”

Men’s head coach Karl Hobbs did not wait long to address well-publicized doubts about his team’s ability to win this season.

“I don’t know if any of you have read some of the publications about where our team is going to finish this year,” Hobbs said. “They got us finishing pretty low. And the one thing I can tell you about paper is this: it isn’t worth anything.”

At midnight, junior Lindsey Davidson led the team in a run around the court, followed by 3-on-3 drills.

This was the crowd’s first glimpse at McKeown’s freshmen class, led by Liz Dancause, Nike All-American and Gatorade New Hampshire Player of the Year. The recruit class is ranked sixth in the country by one trade magazine.

Garnering the most attention was a leaping men’s basketball player, 5-foot-10 T.J. Thompson, who not only can dunk but also appeared to nick his head on the rim during an alley-oop to himself.

Players from each team paired up for a shootout, as the student section slowly began to empty.

The pairs were Davidson and Chris Monroe, Marquin Chandler and Cathy Joens and Erica Lawrence and Greg Collucci. After a string of misses from three-point range from Collucci, Vice President of Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak said, “He’s better at 8 p.m. than midnight.”

Most players agreed this year’s show was more fun than last year’s because students were involved.

“It was more exciting because we got more people involved,” Monroe said. “It’s good to get the fans involved.”

Lawrence, GW’s top women’s scorer last season, said more basketball and less performance was a good tradeoff.

“It was not a whole big show. Everyone was a part of it,” she said.

Not surprisingly, the show took a more patriotic approach than in years past. There was a Drum and Fife march and a singing of “God Bless America.” Devin McCalla, a member of the gymnastics team, which was honored before the show, was twice drowned out by cheers during a performance of the National Anthem.

“That’s money. That’s what I live for,” McCalla said. “I never had that many people singing like that behind me.”

One highlight of the night came when the Daredevils ended their 15-minute act by pumping an American flag at center court, rousing the student-section into a semi-broken chant of “USA, USA.”

Jeff Goodin, the oldest member of the Daredevils, said the last time he got that sort of reaction was during the Persian Gulf War of 1991.

“The flag’s not a normal part of the show, but we’ve done it in years past.” Goodin said. “It’s never had a reaction like that before.”

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