Thundering Herd Madness Kicks Off Hoops

Marshall men's basketball kicked off the start of the 2008-09 season with a two-hour practice called "Thundering Herd Madness," and over 3,000 Herd fans turned out with no MU football this weekend. They saw true freshman point guard Damier Pitts score 10 points and sophomore 6-foot-10, 315-pound center Marcus Goode hit two threes on the way to leading the White team with 12 points.

Besides Damier Pitts and Marcus Goode, the fans also saw a very athletic Herd men's basketball team that got up and down the court very quickly in passing drills, after the Marshall Maniacs rolled out the Green Carpet for the team's introduction. This is a new tradition being established by second-year head coach Donnie Jones, and the carpet is the same rug used for the worldwide premiere of the Warner Bros. movie, "We Are Marshall," in December of 2006 at the Keith-Albee Theatre in downtown Huntington.

Markel Humphrey ran down the Green Carpet at Thundering Herd Madness on Saturday night. The carpet is a newly introduced feature of pre-game introductions.. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

Jones was very happy with his team's first night under the lights, with nine new players mixing in with five returning lettermen. "I think we're a little more talented than last year, obviously," said Jones. "We've got more bodies, and without Markel out there tonight, one of our best players if not the best player on our team, we're waiting on the results on him." Humphrey had an MRI on Friday that reveled a stress fracture in his foot. It appears he will be out of practice for at least three weeks, but should be able to come back for some practice before the opener with WVU Tech on November 16 here in the Cam Henderson Center on the MU campus.

Tirrell Baines went up high for a dunk during the slam-dunk competition at Saturday night's Madness event. The event was won by Octavius Spann. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

The new players dominated both the three-point shooting and slam dunk contests. Octavius Spann won the dunk contest over last year's winner, sophomore Tirrell Baines. Spann put on the game jersey of his brother, senior Herd wide out Emmanuel Spann, who also wears No. 24, and the older brother fed the younger for two dunks in the first round. Spann hit one other dunk in the second round, but while Baines had two in each round (including a rim-rattling feed from Tyler Wilkerson about 12 rows up in the stands), Spann won on presentation.

Dago Pena looked for room to drive around Shaquille Johnson during the scrimmage at Saturday night's Madness event. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

"Just having fun," said "Tay" Spann of wearing his brother's jersey. "I should have tried it on before tonight, because I didn't know how small those football jersey's are cut. We had fun. Tirrell can jump out of the gym, and if we had done it over he would have won because he jumps way better than I." Spann is a transfer from Georgetown University who sat out last year.

So did Chris Lutz of Purdue, who hit 18-of-25 shots in the three-point contest and teamed with Darryl Merthie (who hit 12) to top the freshman team of Pitts (16 threes) and Dago Pena (9-of-25). "I was really glad to see Chris nailing 18 threes," said Jones. In the 20-minute scrimmage (on a running clock), the brand new players took over with Goode hitting two threes on his way to 12 points. The big man has lost 30 pounds since school started, trimming from 338 to 315 pounds. "I've still got to lose some weight. My goal is to get to 290," said Goode after the game during the autograph session with the fans. Goode sat out for academic reasons, not practicing or playing all of 2007-08. "It was tough to watch these guys play, but I made progress in the year of sitting out. I want to win with these guys this year."

Newcomer Shaquille Johnson dunked during the scrimmage at Saturday night's Madness event at the Henderson Center in Huntington. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

Pitts ran the green team very well, scoring 10 points and making some very good passes. Wilkerson was next on the green with seven points, including a three, while Western Carolina transfer Camden Miller hit for six points in the scrimmage. Miller can practice, but has to sit out games for '08-'09. Miller understands the importance of local players, like himself from nearby Wheelersburg, Ohio, and Adam Williams, from nearby St. Albans, W.Va. "You hope it brings more local fans to the game and gets the communities more involved," said Miller. "I've got a lot of people supporting me, who come out and we'll see what happens.

Marshall Hall of Fame member Rodney Holden, who played on the the last post-season team in 1988, is a resident of the Wheelersburg area. "I talked to Rodney last night at the Pirates' football game. He said he would be coming up to all the games to support us. I'm gonna root them on this year. We've got a lot of young guys, including me, but we have got some talent and every year is a building block." Also scoring in the scrimmage was freshman forward Kore White (8), Baines (6), Pena (4), Spann (3), and frosh guard Shaquille Johnson (2).

Marshall will begin practice full time next weekend. The Herd's only exhibition with be on November 1 against Wheeling Jesuit, the alma mater of Marshall's Director of Basketball Operations Tim Thomas. MU will open the season at home with a game that is part of the Glenn Wilkes Classic on Nov. 16 with WVU Tech at 7 p.m., then head to Daytona, Fla., for games with Morgan State (Nov. 21) at 2 p.m., Wisconsin-Green Bay (Nov. 22) at 2 p.m. and with Ole Miss (Nov. 23) at 4 p.m. The Nov. 22 game will run on WRVC 930, the ESPN station for the Tri-State, while the Thundering Herd football team's game at Rice will air on WDGG, 93.7 The Dawg and the rest of the Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network.

On Nov. 29, MU will have a basketball-football double-header, with basketball facing Old Dominion at 11:30 a.m. at the Henderson Center and football closing the regular season with undefeated Tulsa at 3:30 p.m. at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

NOTES: Former players were seen in attendance at Thundering Herd Madness, including last year's senior Taurean Marshall and senior Jesse Oglesby, while Ryan Lamb, a point guard from three years ago, is in grad school at MU... Holden was there along with another Marshall HOF member, Tex Williams, the father of Adam...Gary Orsini, who played in the early 1970s, was one of the judges in the slam dunk contest...Jones apparently telephoned in after the introductions of all other players and staff, then was produced from a series of black boxes by magician, and MU alum, Mario Orsini, son of Gary...The video introductions of the players would not play, so PA announcer Mike Kirtner, starting his 16th season behind the mic for Herd basketball, filled with more MU Pep Band songs, introduction of Victory Club President Geoff Sheils and married cheerleaders, the Gilliams, whom Kirtner profiled in a recent edition of Herd Insider...All profits from tonight's event go to the Victory Club, the fund-raising wing of men's basketball...Sponsors included 93.7 FM, the Dawg, along with Pepsi, AEP, Big Sandy Superstores, Cabell Huntington Hospital, Thunder Land, First Sentry Bank, Huddleston-Bolen LLP and Champion Industries...The MU Dance team and cheerleaders teamed for a show during a break in the action. The MU Dance Team will have a clinic on October 17-18 at the Henderson Center, starting at 5 p.m. on Friday, for kindergarten through 8th grade. The cost is $50 per person, and each will get a t-shirt.

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