The fans of Washington basketball were treated to an exciting evening as the Huskies opened their 2009-10 season with ESPNU's Midnight Madness. The evening started off with the entire team performing a hip-hop version of Bow Down to Washington, followed by a dunk and three-point contest, then a live scrimmage.
"No one got hurt, the guys got to have some fun and I thought they did a good job with the skit at the beginning," said Husky coach Lorenzo Romar, who doubled as the event's MC. "It was just a fun night on the eve of us getting to work for real."
It was also an opportunity for Washington to share the national spotlight with programs like North Carolina, Michigan State, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Georgetown and Connecticut.
"Any time we can get our program national recognition, it's hard to turn that down," explained Romar. "This along with the end of the year when ESPN Game Day will come to Seattle, we start to become more consistent with the national coverage and it bodes well for us."
But tonight was all about the fans on hand at Hec Edmundson Pavilion and the highlight of the event was of course the slam dunk contest. Every player with the exception of Tyreese Breshers, Justin Holiday and Quincy Pondexter got a shot to impress the crowd in the opening round. Judged by applause, high flying true freshman Clarence Trent, defensive specialist Venoy Overton, big men Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Darnell Gant along with explosive star point guard Isaiah Thomas all advanced to the next round.
Judged by former Husky greats Todd MacCulloch, Eldridge Recasner and Chris Welp, all five put on a show. Trent really got things going with a dunk that started from behind the backboard, then showed off his athleticism, taking off from one-step past the free throw line and tomahawking down a jam.
Gant had a nice flush that was assisted by Holiday off the shot clock, and Overton brought the house down with he pulled off reverse two-handed windmill, bringing the ball all the way down below his knees before throwing it in.
But the real stars of the show were IT and MBA. Bryan-Amaning appeared to have won the contest after he threw the ball with his left hand off the backboard, leaped across the rim catching in his right before violently throwing it down on his first attempt. He followed that up with a move impossible for most men his size. Going baseline he leaped into the air, put the ball between his legs while gliding under the rim before appearing on the other side and packing the ball home. The crowd went crazy and the judges gave him a perfect score.
There was only one more dunk left, and the smallest man on the court came up the biggest. After a so so showing in his first attempt, Thomas brought out the biggest prop he could find, the man who just brought the house down, MBA. Standing directly in front of the hoop, Thomas leaped over Bryan-Amaning and flushed it. The crowd went crazy and the judges handed out another perfect score. But this time they added an addition nine to break the tie and award Thomas the crown.
But was Romar worried when he saw his star point guard preparing for that dunk?
"Here's the thing -- just like these people that jump off cliffs from 75-feet, that isn't the first time they've tried it. They tried it at 50 feet and Isaiah tries that stuff all of the time at parks and when we are not around."
The Huskies concluded their night with a scrimmage that was all about flash and little about substance, and the fans wouldn't have it any other way. But for coach Romar, he realizes the real evaluation doesn't start until tomorrow.
"You can't draw anything from tonight," said Romar. "How did guys defend, were they in the right position, that is what we draw from. Were guys boxing out, running the floor, getting back and defending, you can't tell with this."
But what you could tell is that everyone, especially the fans and players enjoyed the moment. But knowing his team well, Romar was far from surprised.
"We have several hams on our team that maybe this even was made for."
The teams were divided into Gold and Purple. The Gold team consisted of MBA, Thomas, true freshman C.J. Wilcox, Overton, Scott Suggs and Trent.
The purple team had Turner, Breshers, Pondexter, Abdul Gaddy, Holiday and Gant.
In the end Purple won 35-20, but on a night like this who's counting?
STATS & OBSERVATIONS
Like Romar said, as a team you can't take anything away from this, but on an individual level I saw some things tonight that should have Husky fans excited.
#1 Venoy Overton -- 1-of-4, 3 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal
-- Overton looks like Overton. He was a pest on defense and had a great rip against the freshman Abdul Gaddy.
#2 Isaiah Thomas -- 3-of-5 - 7 points, 1 rebound, 4 assists
-- Thomas looked like a kid in a candy shop, finding all of his athletic teammates in transition and dishing dimes. He set up Trent more than once.
#10 Abdul Gaddy -- 2-of-2, 4 points, 1 rebound
-- Man he's smooth. On one play that he drove the hole after a hesitation move, I just thought to myself 'his learning curve is going to be small.' Having watched him often in high school I'm not surprised, but seeing him in action with college talent only validate what I though.
#12 Clarence Trent -- 3-of-5, 6 points, 1 rebound
-- What an athlete? He was everywhere and was fired up at the refs in a scrimmage. I love his passion, his energy, and he looked better with the ball than I imagined. But, it will be interesting to see him when things get structured.
#15 Scott Suggs -- 1-of-3, 2 points, 1 rebound
#20 Quincy Pondexter -- 2-of-5, 6 points, 6 rebounds
-- His shot does look better, it wasn't just talk. He's also in incredible shape and looks ready to physically impose his will on opponents.
#23 C.J. Wilcox -- 2-of-3, 6 points
-- Kid has range, just as much range as advertised.
#33 Tyrese Breshers -- 1-2, 2 points, 1 block, 1 rebound
-- The big man can move, jump and actually has a very nice touch with his shot. If he gets healthy, he could have a huge impact.
#31 Elston Turner -- 5-of-6, 10 points (3-4 from three)
-- He told me he was ready to be more aggressive and become one of their main scorers. Well tonight he wasn't shy about launching from all over the court, including from a few feet beyond NBA range -- BTW it was nothing but net!
#44 Darnell Gant -- 2-of-2, 4 points, 2 rebounds
-- He's so athletic and moves very well with the ball in his hand. He had a couple of moves on Breshers that made me say wow. If he can become more confident, there are not a lot of PF's in the Pac-10 who can guard him when he faces up.