Fast forward through the monotony of dumb skits, dumber contests and a good band with a horrible lead singer and suddenly it was midnight. The start of what could be an extremely successful basketball season for Lute Olson and his Arizona Wildcat team.
The players were introduced by class and the biggest ovations of the night went to the senior trio of Jason Gardner, Rick Anderson and Luke Walton, deservedly so, of course. However, it was a couple of freshmen who stole the show, and you know which two I'm talking about before I even write it.
At Midnight Madness most of the people who show up (and it was a record crowd tonight) are basically there for two reasons: the dunk contest and…what else is there to do in this town on a Friday night? Well, at least the dunk show didn't disappoint anyone. In fact, I'd go so far as to call it the best dunk competition in the short history of Midnight Madness at Arizona.
The first to go was sophomore dynamo Will Bynum. How he gets up that high for a guy five-foot-nine (max) is beyond me. He threw a lob to himself from the right wing, caught it in mid-air, cocked it back to his heels, leaned in and slammed it through the hoop. The lift that he got on his dunk made me wonder if he had been cleared for takeoff by local air traffic controllers at Tucson International. Bynum is the best sub-six-foot dunker in college basketball, bar none.
Andre Iguodala, who would eventually walk away as the dunk contest's winner, had the dunk of the night. It was so good that after I filmed it, I rewound it, watched it about ten more times and it got better every single time.
AI started his approach from the right wing and took it baseline before jumping, bringing the ball through his legs while in the air and spinning at the same time before throwing it down with authority on the other side of the rim. Those words you just read do the dunk absolutely zero justice. You had to see it for yourself. I've got the tape if you've got the cash!
In Andre's second round of dunks, he brought the crowd to its feet in anticipation as he started running from the other end of the court for his try. As he ran, the crowd volume increased with each long, smooth stride he took. The noise hit its crescendo when ‘Dre ‘Dala took off from the free throw line…and just came up a little short. The effort was fabulous, miss or no miss. He tried again moments later and dunked it, but not quite from the free throw line. The crowd loved him. But not quite as much as his alter-ego, Hassan Adams.
Adams is the most explosive leaper on the team. He even out jumps Bynum and that's saying something. On his first dunk he disproved everything old Ike Newton worked so hard to prove as far as gravity goes. From the right wing, Hassan tossed the ball into the air, seemingly way too far away from the hoop to attempt the dunk. As he burst toward the descending ball, he timed his takeoff so that he'd catch the ball with his left hand as it reached the apex of its bounce, but still, it looked to be a bit too far. Hassan caught the ball with his left hand from about ten feet away from the hoop, soared in like an Eagle and tried to destroy everything associated with that basket. It was very, very powerful and when he landed he let out a primal scream to the McKale Center rafters. His teammates ran off the bench and shoved him around a little, which is the way players show respect nowadays.
The crowd loved Hassan's flair, but it wasn't enough to take home the championship. There's just something about Andre Iguodala's grace that appealed a little bit more and, by way of the crowd's noise, Iggy was voted the winner.
The fourth contestant was sophomore power forward Dennis Latimore. He was at a disadvantage prior to ever attempting his first dunk. At 6'8", he can't win over the crowd the way a Will Bynum or a Spud Webb can. He is the most powerful dunker on the team but he doesn't have the excitement to match the smaller guys. I actually felt bad for Dennis because he had one pretty impressive dunk but received basically no crowd support.
Based on what I saw tonight at Midnight Madness, I'll say that Arizona is going to be one of the nation's most exciting and most fun to watch teams. Fast breaks being led by either Gardner or Walton with HassAndre on the wing, filling the lanes, are going to be things of beauty. And defenders should think twice before attempting to jump with those two freshmen on alley-oop lobs. They might wind up looking pretty silly when these guys are swinging on the rim above them.
Final verdict: Volleyball game gets top honors, led by Kim Glass, followed by HassAndre and Bynum's dunking exhibition. The crowd that showed up was excellent, and probably filled up 98-99% of McKale (near 15,000 – a record without a doubt). However, two things to steer clear of next time around for Midnight Madness are having KRQ within five miles of the arena and finding someone (ANYONE!) other than the regular PA announcer to emcee the event.
Tom Arnold should have had complete control over the microphones.