Pandemonium in the Pavilion

Stephen Buszka

It is a rare occasion to see the Pavilion rocking the way it did last Friday night. Those who were lucky enough to get in before the doors closed were treated to a number of surprises, in addition to electric player introductions and the first public display of the 2006-2007 Villanova men’s basketball team.

“Hoops Mania means the start of the men’s basketball season,” Brian Papson, director of marketing and special events, said. “With the excitement that was created last year with the team and the past two years with two great showings at the NCAA tournament, people are just crazy about Villanova Basketball. That’s great. We want to interest them and encourage that and build upon that. The support the fans showed for the men’s and women’s basketball teams at Hoops Mania is tremendous. The ‘Nova Nation is certainly taking a life on its own and it’s great.”

The event certainly created excitement, and in a big way.

A sense of anticipation lingered in the air, as a result of the long line of students, alumni, VIP and fans that stretched and winded its way through construction fences, down Ithan Avenue to the parking lot of Jake Nevin. When the doors finally opened around 7 p.m. it took several minutes for the hoard of people to file into the building. The student section was packed within minutes and the East and West stands soon followed. As the estimated 5,500 to 6,000 spectators continued to arrive, the festivities started. DJ 007 provided the soundtrack for the night.

Within the first few minutes, the fans were treated to a three-on-three match-up between “The Firm,” a group of students who won the chance to play, and the Villanova Legends team, which included Ed Pinckney, Jason Fraser and Tom Grace. As 8 p.m. drew closer, the band fired up the crowd with a few musical numbers as chants of “Let’s go ‘Nova” resounded in the arena. Soon afterward, a procession of Wildcat football players and the women’s basketball team marched onto and then off the court.

Several minutes later, the lights dimmed as fog poured from the rafters and the big screen lit up. To the tune of “Crazy,” the fans were treated to a highlight reel of last year’s team. Following this, to the surprise of everyone in attendance, Fox’s NFL analysts Terry Bradshaw and former Villanovan Howie Long cued up another highlight reel by posing the question to ‘Nova Nation, “Are you ready for some Villanova basketball?” This question became the theme for the night.

The Pavilion fell silent and dark. The spotlight turned to the top of the student section. To the adrenaline-pumping baseline of “‘Til I Collapse,” tri-captain Mike Nardi marched down the stands to a roar of cheers that rendered the music inaudible.

After a standing ovation for what seemed like a half-hour, the rest of the team was introduced with near-equal excitement and cheers. The coaches followed the team. Coach Jay Wright, sporting a new look with a dress shirt, jeans and boots, pumped up the crowd with a few choice words and then handed the microphone to University President Rev. Peter Donohue, who was well received and greeted with chants of “Father Peter” from the student section. In following suit with the established theme of the night, he challenged the fans: “Are you ready for some Villanova basketball?”

The fans may have been ready for Villanova basketball, but they never could have been prepared for what happened afterward. Following the introduction of the Blue and White coaches, Wright informed the fans there was a special guest coach. Moments later, G-Unit’s Tony Yayo jogged onto center court to the ecstasy of all the fans in attendance.

“When we were planning the event, we were just looking for some sizzle,” Papson said.

To sign G-Unit to make an appearance, marketing got help from an inside man.

“Someone had a connection there and we followed up on it and continued to follow through and it all worked out for us,” Papson said.

Finally, it was time for the Blue vs. White scrimmage to start. For fans concerned about the loss of Allan Ray, Kyle Lowry and Randy Foye to the NBA, the scrimmage offered some assurance. Freshman guard Reggie Redding played on the Blue team and connected from beyond the arc on three occasions and added another field goal for a game-high 11 points. Nardi, the last remaining member of last year’s four-guard quartet, added his own eight points. Curtis Sumpter, sporting a knee brace, made his highly-anticipated return to the hardwood with 10 points of his own for the White team. The passion of both teams was evident as both sides played at full speed. This was particularly true when, in what resulted in a gasp of horror from some fans, seniors Sumpter and Will Sheridan collided near mid-court while scrambling for a loose ball. Both were unharmed. The game ended in a 31-31 tie, making the fans winners for the night.

“We want to salute our fans, the best fans in the country and our student section,” Jay Wright said. “Everybody stand up. Let’s get your Vs up in the air.”

With that invitation, the crowd rose to their feet and, in tune with the band’s musical accompaniment, belted out the school’s fight song. ‘Nova Nation wasn’t finished yet. It was the fans turn to sit back and let someone else do the singing, or at least the rapping.

Following an introduction by Wright, Yayo took center court and began performing. Midway through, he stopped and called for silence.

“Ladies and gentlemen, make some noise,” Yayo said. “For my right-hand man: 50!”

The crowd’s silence erupted into a swarm of cheers as award-winning rapper 50 Cent ran to center court to join Yayo and, together, they proceeded to blow the roof off the Pavilion.

No one in the arena was calm at that point. Even the basketball players, both the men and women, glowed with elation in the presence of the world-famous musical artists.

When the music finally stopped, the crowd lingered until the lights came back on. Even then, several hundred students and fans remained to watch the men’s team celebrate the night with family and friends on center court.

“From a marketing perspective, I really think that everything went really smoothly,” Papson said. “The students were crazy and excited and that’s what we’re looking to accomplish. The special guest was just fantastic and did a good job and really blew the roof off the building, which is exactly what we were hoping.”

With such a high standard set last Friday, Papson has his work cut out for him next year.

“We’re looking forward to bigger and better Hoops Manias, believe it or not,” Papson said. “We don’t ever want to take a step back.”

As for how, exactly, they look to improve on this years event, Papson responded, “We are asking ourselves that now, ‘How can we top that one?’ That’s a tough question you always have to face yourself with when you put on a good event, how are you going to improve it for next season? We’re already coming up with some different ideas about what we can do and plan out a little bit further and maybe do things a little differently, but it’s pretty early to say exactly what we’re going to do or what our plans are.”