The smoke started but the flame was still evident from last year's Big 12 Conference regular season and tournament championships and NCAA Final Four run as the fans roared with the appearance of the Cowboys for Eddie Sutton's Basketball Bash.
After the arena darkened and the players were introduced they showed the enthusiasm expected as they danced with each introduction of each teammate. It is evident that with newcomers like Aaron Pettway and JamesOn Curry and the returning cast from last season that the chemistry is still there with this team. The players had all this energy despite a physical opening workout that lasted nearly three hours earlier that morning.
The festivities started with the slam dunk contest. In the preliminaries Ivan McFarlin ignited the crowd with a self-lob cartwheel into a two-hand slam dunk. Unfortunately it came after a missed attempt on a two-handed reverse slam. Joey Graham qualified for the final when he took a lob from John Lucas and then proceeded to go over Lucas for a one-handed slam. His competition in the finals was newcomer Aaron Pettway, who used a two-handed reverse slam and a one-handed monster off a jump step.
In the finals it was no contest.
"We have word that Joey Graham has just filed a flight plan," said Gallagher-Iba Arena announcer Larry Reese.
It wasn't far from being right.
Pettway missed twice on a free-throw takeoff attempt and a dribble drive into a reverse. Meanwhile, Joey Graham, with the crowd going nuts, took off from the free throw line on each end of the court and made his one-handed dunks look so easy. Graham easily won on scoring by the judges -- basketball guru Greg Swaim and ESPN SportsCenter anchor John Anderson, who was in town visiting good friend and Cowboy radio play-by-play announcer Dave Hunziker.
"It was just inside the free throw line," said Graham of his pair of high flying dunks that won the contest. "I could have gone from just outside, but I didn't want to push it."
In the three-point shooting contest it was all John Lucas. The Cowboy point guard hit 13 three-pointers in 30 seconds during each of his preliminary rounds. His closest competitor was Stevie Graham who nailed nine in his first round and then 11 in the second. In the finals, Lucas had trouble starting but still finished with 11 three-pointers through the twine while Graham had nine. Lucas was on fire with his shooting.
The Black squad, designated as the Aggies on the scoreboard, won the 20-minute intrasquad scrimmage 45-31. They really had it won by halftime, never trailing the second 10 minutes in their contest with the white squad, designated as the Cowboys on the scoreboard.
The Aggies were led by Lucas and McFarlin, each with 11 points. Early in the contest Daniel Bobik had it going with McFarlin. Bobik made two really good passes that set up scoring opportunities for McFarlin. Lucas' total included a nifty reverse lay up in the first half and a three-pointer in the second half along with a breakaway lay up off a steal by Marcus Dove. Speaking of Dove, he and Terrence Crawford, who looks to be in the best shape he's been in since his Achilles injury two years ago. Bobik added two points to his outstanding passing performance.
At halftime, Daniel Bobik's wife and sister-in-law (Cool Chicks Wear Orange) were introduced, and the crowd cheered as they performed there trademark dance to the William Tell Overture.
The Cowboys (white squad) really struggled in the second half allowing the Aggies to take a double-digit lead. But the Graham brothers proved why they will be so valuable this season -- hustling on both ends of the floor, picking up some fouls, and scoring points. Joey led the Cowboys, and all scorers in the scrimmage, with 13 points, including a monster slam dunk and a three-pointer. Stevie Graham had eight points. The two newcomers broke the ice in front of the Cowboys fans as shooter JamesOn Curry had four points including a 14-foot jumper for his first bucket. Junior college transfer 6-11 post player Aaron Pettway had two points.
One of the nice bright spots in the scrimmage was free-throw shooting as both squads combined to go 10-of-12 from the charity stripe.
Cowboy head coach Eddie Sutton came in to the arena and is apparently still suffering from effects of his hip problem as he used the aid of a walking stick. He explained to the crowd that he had had a rough couple of weeks with the hip.
"It's more important that the players be in good shape than the coaches," said Sutton when he addressed the crowd. "I will be in good shape for the season opener," he promised.
Sutton also hinted the walking stick could come into good use when the officials weren't calling the game right as he demonstrated how he could edge it out on the floor and trip up a renegade zebra.
Before the defending Final Four Cowboys were introduced, the crowd of nearly 10,000 homecoming fans met Julie Goodenough and her Cowgirls squad and John Smith and his two-time defending NCAA wrestling championship team. Both coaches made a plea to the crowd to raise the bar in attendance with their respective sports. The fans actually stood and gave the wrestlers a standing ovation as they were introduced with the loudest noise reserved for defending national champion Chris Pendleton, and the newcomer to the squad, former NCAA heavyweight champion from Iowa Steve Macco. The crowd was very responsive to wrestling coach John Smith as he directed the crowd to look up at the wrestling national championship banners in the south end of the arena.
"See the 1954, ‘55 and ‘56 championships," said Smith starring at the banner. "It has been that long since we have won three in a row. That is our goal this season. This team is raising the bar."
Smith and Sutton may be looking at a first as no school we could find has won the NCAA basketball and wrestling national championships in the same season. That would be a nice double.
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