Truth be told, you don't need a catchy slogan such as "Midnight Madness" or "Hoosier Hysteria" to let IU fans know what time of year it is. It's basketball season in Bloomington.
The IU men's and women's basketball teams officially open their 2005-06 seasons tonight with the opening practice of the year. The Assembly Hall box office opens at 7 p.m., and the doors open at 8:15 p.m. tonight for "Hoosier Hysteria." Admittance to tonight's event is either two canned food items or $2/person.
Player introductions are slated to begin at approximately 9 p.m. Following player introductions, the two teams will compete in a variety of events, including a men's slam dunk contest; and men's and women's 3-point shooting contest; and a "spot shot" competition. The men's team will then have a short scrimmage to wrap-up the evening's events.
After back-to-back disappointing seasons, expectations are high for the men's team this winter. Indiana returns eight letterwinners, including last year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year, D.J. White. The 6-9, 230-pound White is the team's leading returning scorer (13.3) and rebounder (4.9) while also leading the team in blocked shots a year ago (2.2).
The high expectations surrounding the team, though, aren't just because of the returnees. Indiana will also have six new players available this winter. Headlining that list is 6-7, 265-pound senior Marco Killingsworth, an Auburn transfer who sat out the 2004-05 season after leaving the SEC school.
Killingsworth showed a glimpse of what he's capable of as a member of the Big Ten Foreign Tour team over the summer. Killingsworth scored in double figures in all five games and led the team in scoring (15.2) and rebounding (7.4). He's expected to team up with White to give the Hoosiers one of the country's best frontcourt tandems.
"We can be real good together," said White. "We have a lot of pressure on us to lead the team back to the NCAA Tournament, and we're up to the challenge. We're two competitive people, we know how to win, and we want to get back to the top."
But the intrigue about this year's team doesn't stop there. Indiana has also added a pair of gifted players from overseas in Australia's Ben Allen and Turkey's Cem Dinc who are expected to be contributors immediately. The Hoosiers have also significantly upgraded the point guard spot. Another Auburn transfer, 6-5, 200-pound senior Lewis Monroe, is the likely starter this season, while 6-3, 175-pound junior college transfer Earl Calloway brings the sort of quickness Indiana has lacked in recent years at the position.
"We have a mixture of different players, different styles," said White. "You can see a lot of different looks from this team this year – I think that's what the coaches are looking for, to give teams a lot of different looks and a lot of different lineups. We're very versatile."
While tonight's practice is more about putting on a good show for the fans in attendance, it also kicks off a potential make-or-break season for IU Coach Mike Davis. In his favor is a team that is not only loaded with talent, but motivated to work as a team and ultimately to put two years of disappointment behind them.
"We know whose role it is to score buckets," said A.J. Ratliff. "Nobody is selfish on this team at all. That's going to go a long way for us.
"Like Coach Davis said, we want to be No. 1 in everything that we do. It starts now."
Let the Madness…err, Hysteria, begin.
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