“Five . four . three . two . one .” GW students counted down the final seconds until the GW basketball team’s first official practice. The pep band erupted into the fight song and Ugo Oha and Chris Monroe led their respective teams onto the court. The only problem? It was 20 minutes after midnight.
In a return to the hoopla of years past, this year’s “Xtreme Madness” focused less on basketball and more on professional and student acts to kick off the start of the 2002-03 basketball season. Nearly 5,000 fans packed the Smith Center to see the long-awaited men’s and women’s first official practice of the season Friday night.
“Finally preseason’s over,” junior women’s guard Marsheik Witherspoon said. “Now I can touch a ball.”
The event culminated when 93.9 FM DJ “Antonio” introduced the basketball teams at about 12:20 a.m. The players, who usually scrimmage each other after introductions, shot around for about twenty minutes as a waning crowd stumbled out of the Smith Center.
Women’s head coach Joe McKeown said the compromise between basketball and entertainment was a tough one, but that he and his players were pleased with the turnout.
“It’s a good problem to have. As a coach you want to see (basketball) but you don’t want to dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm,” he said.
Men’s guard Greg Colluci said he thought the spirit level was high and that he hopes it keeps up over the season.
“Everyone knows it was the first day of practice. I hope they come to the games, that’s more important than Midnight Madness,” he said.
Before the players came out, radio personality Larry Michael introduced and briefly interviewed McKeown and men’s head coach Karl Hobbs. Both coaches thanked fans for their support and said they expected exciting seasons from their respective team leaders Monroe, a senior, and Oha, a junior.
“This time of year it’s always fun to get everybody going,” McKeown said.
“When you’re at a school like GW where you don’t have football and most of your fall sports aren’t played on campus, it’s harder for students to get involved, so this makes it fun for everybody.”
Monroe, whose 21 points per game last season ranked him third in the Atlantic 10, was the first player to be introduced for the men’s team and received a loud ovation. Sophomore forward Tamal Forchion, who will miss the start of the season with a broken ankle, jogged gingerly out to his teammates at center court when introduced.
“It’s really good to see fans showing their support, especially after the season we had last year,” Monroe said. “We have a great freshman class and a good team so hopefully more people will come and see us play.”
The spirit event was the first for the freshman recruit class, ranked 22nd in the country. Rookie center Alexnder Kireev said he enjoyed the festivities.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that in front of that type of crowd,” the Russian native said. “When I played in high school in Louisiana, there were maybe 500 people at most at the games, so tonight was really nice.”
Hobbs also said he was impressed by the crowd and said he hoped fans would continue to come out and support the team during the season.
Though men’s game attendance was down last year in a season marred by a 10-game losing streak, sophomore point guard T.J. Thompson said he expects fans to come back this year “because we’re going to win. All we have to do is win and we’ll get the crowds.”
McKeown’s team was introduced with much preseason hype, including a No. 11 ranking in Street and Smith’s 2002-03 preseason poll. But McKeown said it is how his team finishes that matters.
“(The ranking) helps my recruiting but it’s where you finish that people really care about,” he said.
He encouraged the crowd to support his team, who has not lost a home conference game since Jan. 10, 1999, over the course of its tough non-conference schedule, including games at the University of Tennessee and Syracuse University.
Sophomore Liz Dancause said the event was a great way to get pumped for the season and senior Erica Lawrence agreed.
“It helps us get pumped and psyched,” Lawrence said. “This is my last year and I want it to be cool. I’m excited to prove something special.”
Three student groups – GW Chamak, a South Asian cultural group, hip hop dance group Liquid Arts and all-girls dance group Blazen – entertained students while they waited for teams to be introduced. The GW cheerleaders, pep band and mascots also encouraged the crowd.
Professional Daredevil Dunkers dazzled fans with a series of acrobatic dunks while Bball Slam combined basketball and freestyle rap, but Village People impersonator “Christopher” received the loudest ovation.
“Every time I come here I always feel so welcomed,” the performer said after his act. “College audiences are so much fun to perform for because they’re so enthusiastic.”
Christopher, dressed as a Native American, performed a Village People medley wearing a costume that includes two mannequins in front and behind him to make it look like he is dancing with the Disco group.
Even McKeown, a four-time A-10 coach of the year with eight NCAA appearances, admired Christopher.
“I wish I thought of that before he did,” McKeown said of the act. “You have low expenses, you don’t have to feed those guys, they don’t complain about their work environment, it’s great. But I can’t dance very well.”
The 2002 baseball and gymnastics teams were honored earlier in the night for winning their respective A-10 tournaments.
Students in general said they were impressed with the night’s events.
“It’s amazing and I’ve never seen so much spirit at GW,” senior Tova Mannis said.
Program Board President Bryan Gless agreed.
“It’s the best of the four years I’ve been here, all the seats are full and everyone’s into it,” he said.
Many fans said they hoped the positive feeling from the night would carry into the season.
“I’m really excited for the season and I hope our team does better than last year,” band member Chris Bui said.