Hoops Mania forecasts exciting season

Meghan Kenny

Students, faculty and men’s basketball enthusiasts crowded into the Pavilion on Friday evening to share in the annual Hoops Mania festivities and kick off the highly-anticipated season.

The Wildcats enter the coming season returning last year’s starting lineup, supplemented by a handful of freshman recruits.

The event was headlined by the annual Blue/White Scrimmage which concluded in a 33-28 win for members of the Blue team: Randy Foye, Baker Dunleavy, Kyle Lowry, and newcomers Frank Tchuisi and Dwayne Anderson. The scrimmage was celebrity-refereed by Bill Raftery, a seasoned CBS and ESPN college basketball commentator. This year’s pairing of Hoops Mania and the scrimmage heightened fans’ anticipation and gave them a preview of what they can expect in the coming months.

“We are all a year older, which means we are more mature, more tight-knit students of the game,” said Will Sheridan, junior forward. “We have a better idea of what it takes to win.”

But this doesn’t mean that the team’s role reversal this season from the hunter to the hunted will affect its overall strategy.

“We will play the same way as we have in the past because we are still hungry for more,” Sheridan said. “This is a new season, and we have to prove ourselves all over again.”

The madness officially commenced at 7:30 p.m., although eager blue-and-white-clad fans had begun to line up outside well before 6 p.m. Approximately 5,000 members of the ‘Nova Nation poured into the Pavilion and chatted excitedly as the Villanova band played crowd favorites.

As the lights dimmed in the venue, all eyes were on the large screen on the south side of the Pavilion, showing a highlight reel of game and summer practice footage. But cheers were promptly replaced by jeers when clips of the controversial traveling call against Allan Ray in last year’s Sweet Sixteen flashed across the screen.

The Wildcats lost the crucial game in last year’s tournament by one point to eventual national champions, the UNC Tar Heels.

Dick Vitale, famed college basketball broadcaster, soon appeared on the screen, inciting resounding applause. After generous mentioning of his catch phrase, “It’s awesome, baby!” he proclaimed that Villanova’s men’s basketball has definite championship potential this year. According to his webpage on ESPN.com, Vitale ranks ‘Nova’s 2005- 06 squad second behind Duke on his Preseason Top 25 list.

Master of Ceremonies Brian Lamsback, sporting a Scottish kilt and face paint, challenged the crowd to make the Pavilion “the loudest place in the country,” and the noise reached a deafening level when a white stretch Hummer H2 pulled onto the court. As each player was announced, he emerged from the car and strolled down the blue carpet to music played by DJ 007. “‘Nova Nation” cheers echoed through the Pavilion, mixed with chants of support for recently-injured senior forward Curtis Sumpter.

The Villanova cheerleaders led fans in some of this year’s first “Let’s go ‘Nova!” cheers and threw Hoops Mania t-shirts into the ravenous crowd throughout the evening. A performance by the University’s Dance Team and repeat appearances by the ubiquitous Wildcat peppered the event.

The evening’s festivities were supplemented by a variety of contests including the “Wildcat Shootout,” and “The Wildest Wildcat,” a competition to determine which of two crazy ‘Nova enthusiasts crafted the most outrageous costume. Possible prizes included Flyers tickets, $50,000 and a two-year lease on a 2006 Land Rover.

“[Hoops Mania] just helps kick off the season and captivates and excites the school and team,” said Brian Papson, director of Marketing and Special Events. “It shows the great support the team has from the student body and the local community.”

The Wildcats start their non-conference schedule on Nov. 13 in an exhibition game against West Chester in the Pavilion.