Tigers go mad at midnight

A dunk contest and a scrimmage highlighted the return of "Mizzou Madness," Missouri basketball's first practice of the season at midnight. Find out who looked improved, what Quin Snyder told the crowd and who was the highest-flyer of the them all.

Several Missouri fans, including several youngsters awake way past their bedtimes, packed the lower level of the Hearnes Center at 12 a.m. Saturday to see Missouri get mad for the first time in two years.

The Tigers hosted "Mizzou Madness," celebrating the first day the NCAA allows teams to practice. For the past two seasons, coach Quin Snyder had skipped the midnight practice in order to get a better start for the season. With one of the most anticipated seasons in Missouri history ahead of him, Snyder switched it back to midnight this year.

"We're going to practice a little bit and try to make it fun," Snyder said in a press conference at 11:30 p.m. Friday. "Don't judge us on the shot selection tonight."

The late hour clearly had no effect on the 4,218 Tiger fans, who cheered the team from its introduction until the end of practice at 12:42 a.m.

Snyder began the night by addressing the crowd.

"It's a big night," he said. "It was my first year, the last time we had this event. As I've kind of reflected a lot recently, you think about where we've come as a program. This is a special night for me personally in a number of ways, beyond what these guys are doing. There's a couple of people here tonight that I was apart of a team with. They came here to support us at a time when we're going through a little adversity, but we also have some fighters."

Those people Snyder was referring to were some of his teammates at Duke. Snyder said the seniors he played with as a freshman brought the Blue Devil program to a different level, and he has seen the same at Missouri.

"Josh Kroenke, Travon Bryant, Arthur Johnson and Rickey Paulding have provided that leadership for these guys, and I couldn't be prouder of those guys, and I want to acknowledge them."

After a series of drills, including one for taking charges that featured 170-pound Spencer Laurie taking one from Johnson, the Tigers had a dunk contest between Jimmy McKinney, Thomas Gardner, Jason Conley, Randy Pulley and Paulding.

On this night, Paulding was clearly going to win even if he missed them all. But he didn't disappoint, with a dunk from the free-throw line even in his practice dunk. Conley added by throwing the ball in the air, taking off his shirt while it bounced and then grabbing it for a two-hander.

In the finals between Paulding and Gardner, Gardner dunked over a crouched Laurie. Paulding bested that by having Mark White, his high school coach, knee in the middle of the key and throw the ball up for Paulding, who grabbed it mid-air and dunked it, albeit on his second try.

Missouri proceeded then to hold a 10-minute scrimmage. The white team took a quick 7-0 lead with a Gardner dunk and a Conley 3-pointer. McKinney, playing for the white team was a definite bright spot, hitting a reverse layup, two spot-up 3-pointers and a one-handed breakaway dunk. McKinney also successfully completed an alley-oop through a crowded key to Conley.

On the black team, Linas Kleiza showed some toughness but didn't shoot that well. Kleiza and Kevin Young blocked Johnson. Paulding didn't score until 2:45 left in the scrimmage on a jump shot over two defenders in the middle of the lane. Paulding later made a 3-pointer from the wing. The white team won 28-13.

Snyder ended the scrimmage the way he started it: by addressing the crowd.

"Our guys are going to play hard this year," Snyder said. "In only a 10-minute scrimmage, you see how together this team is. We're going to play hard and play together."

For several Tigers, it was their first midnight practice, and reason for excitement after an offseason of question and anticipation. Question because of an NCAA investigation of the team, and anticipation because this could be the deepest, most talented team in Snyder's tenure as Missouri coach.

After that long summer, it was simply good to get on the floor.

"It's very exciting," said Laurie, who is from Springfield. "It's something I've been dreaming about since I was a little kid to play here at Missouri in Midnight Madness."

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