A.J. Ratliff stole the show, but Marco Killingsworth got the last laugh as the 2005-06 Indiana basketball season kicked off in front of 13,500 fans in what looks like the beginning of something special inside Assembly Hall.
Sophomore Ratliff wowed the crowd in the slam dunk contest portion of "Hoosier Hysteria". Ratliff dazzled the on-lookers by jumping over the rest of his recruiting class D.J. White, Robert Vaden and Adam Ahlfeld and finishing with an authoritative dunk to tie Killingsworth for the slam dunk crown.
"I wasn't worried because we practiced it all day yesterday," said White who at 6-9 was the tallest of the human hurdles. "He did kick me in the head. I'm going to handle that when I see him again."
The slam dunk contest finished off the first night of practice for both the men's and women's basketball teams, both of which expect this season to be much different than last. The women's team will start the 2005-06 season under first-year head coach Sharon Versyp and the men's team – which went 15-14 and missed out on the NCAA tourney for a second straight year - will start the season ranked No. 21 in the ESPN preseason poll.
"It was good for us to practice a little bit," said senior guard Marshall Strickland. "We went out and had some fun and now we're back to work. I'm glad the fans came out like they did and they made a lot of noise.
"It was definitely a good time. It's going to be an exciting year and I think we showed that on the court."
The night was started with the women's team taking the court for a 20-minute running clock scrimmage. The red squad feature seniors Cyndi Valentin and Jenny DeMuth won a defensive struggle, 16-9.
The white squad made it interesting in the final minutes as freshman Whitney Thomas from Bloomington North completed a three-point play to make the score 14-9 Red, but Valentin closed the door with a steal and layup to finish out the game.
"It was very exciting," Versyp said. "For me, to be back home in Indiana, and for this great group of women, it was good for all of us to see the excitement of what Indiana basketball is all about and the tradition that this university has. We just came out, had a good time, relaxed, and tried to enjoy all of the festivities and the experience."
The men's team followed with a 15-minute scrimmage that allowed Killingsworth to show off for the crowd. Killingsworth led all scorers with nine points and also had two impressive blocks as his red squad won, 21-14. His teammate White added six points and senior Sean Kline led the White team with six.
"We showed what we're capable of doing, but we just came out here to have some fun tonight," said White. "I'm very excited to play with Marco. In practice he beats me up, I beat him up and now we have a love for one another. I can't wait for this season to happen."
The scrimmage gave the Indiana faithful a chance to see the newest additions to the squad, but in the case of Ben Allen, only for a few seconds. Less than a minute into the scrimmage, Allen sustained a bloodied nose and had to sit out the rest of the night.
"It felt good to be out there," said JUCO transfer Earl Calloway. "I felt like I was at home. The crowd welcomed us with open arms. I greatly appreciate it."
The crowd was especially loud for White, who was the last Hoosier announced out of the tunnel during the team announcements.
"I didn't think I was going to be the last one out of the tunnel, but when I found out, it gave me that adrenaline rush," said White. "I knew the crowd would get up for me, it felt good.
"The fans are always behind us. There is a lot more talk about this team this year and that's good. That's something we need from them. We feed off the fans and we greatly appreciate it."
Valentin won her third 3-point contest in four years, edging out the men's champion, Strickland, by two shots in the final round.
"Tonight was fun," Valentin said. "It's a great way to start the season. In last year's 3-point contest, Ryan Tapak beat me, but I made sure I won it this year."
Strickland held the edge early as the two squared off in all three rounds, but Valentin won the final match, the one that mattered.
"The first couple of shots in the final round I felt really good," said Strickland. "I knew I could make a bunch, but she wore me down. I beat her in the early rounds but she beat me when it counted."
Freshman Joey Shaw knocked out crowd-favorite and Bloomington North graduate Errek Suhr in the first round, knocking down 14 shots to Suhr's 13, but could not match Strickland.
Vaden and freshman Kimberly Roberson teamed up to knock out White and DeMuth in the two-ball contest before the slam dunk contest began.
Ratliff and Killingsworth were the only two to post perfect scores in the dunk contest, with each pulling it off in each of the two rounds. It looked as Ratliff had won with the dunk over his sophomore teammates, but Killingsworth finished the night on an alley-oop from Lewis Monroe and as he pulled himself above the rim.
"A.J. didn't steal the show, he was just doing his thing," said Killingsworth. "I didn't expect him to do that tonight, I was just trying to keep up."
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