Buzz Surrounds 2011 Midknight Madness

For the first time in a long time, true excitement surrounds the beginning of the Rutgers men's basketball team's season. After turning the program in a positive direction in his first year as head coach, Mike Rice went one-on-one with to preview tomorrow's "Midknight Madness" event at the College Ave. Gym at 9:30 p.m.

Every Big East basketball coach from Jim Calhoun to Jay Wright comes into the Louis Brown Athletic Center year after year and talks about the unique atmosphere created by a packed house.

Mike Rice learned about it firsthand, last season, during his inaugural year as head coach of the Scarlet Knights. A packed RAC can be the difference between another close loss or Jonathan Mitchell's "two-minute miracle" against No. 9 Villanova.

Last year was a nice start for Rice and the fan base, but he wants more this year.

"I didn't understand what I had, to be honest, until I went through a whole season," Rice said. "When the RAC is filled, especially with the student section filled, I didn't realize how much of an advantage you have. The first six or seven games where we played non-conference games where there was 200 to 300 people sitting in the student section, compared to 3,000 or 4,000, it's such a difference."

In an effort to strengthen the team's presence on campus among the students, Rice put "Midknight Madness" back on the table, which takes place tomorrow at 9:30 p.m. at the College Avenue Gym.

On the Friday night of Homecoming weekend, Rutgers fans and students have a chance to meet the 2011-12 Scarlet Knights up close.

To Rice, who remains relatively new to Rutgers after taking over the program last year, "Midknight Madness" is an exciting time for everyone involved.

"With our 12th rated recruiting class, with our returning players, I think that the potential of this program is a positive one and I think, to get an early look at the freshman class, along with the team is an exciting one," Rice said. "I have to make sure students know that basketball season is upon us and right around the corner. Our first game is less than a month away and [students] make such a difference. That's another reason why we're doing this."

Rice opted against any sort of tip-off event last season. He felt it went against the "business-like" approach he wanted to establish within the program.

Now that the mentality is established, however, Rice wants his team to become one with the growing fan base.

"This year, I just want to make sure we lay the foundation of our program and our team," Rice said. "This year, it's about, hopefully, brining a new excitement and energy level to the program and doing it for our fans, mainly our students. I hadn't done a lot for our students because it's hard work rebuilding a program and, so I hope that the students will enjoy everything."

For the fans that have attended similar events in the past, "Midknight Madness" under Rice is a different animal.

This year, the fans that pack The Barn can see more than a few lay-ups.

During the event, emceed by SNY's Chris Carlin, the cheerleaders and dance team will perform. There will be free T-shirts, a chance for students to win a car with a half-court shot and a slam-dunk contest.

The slam-dunk contest, decided by the loudest cheers from the crowd, has two early favorites, Rice said.

"If anybody has watched [Kansas State transfer] Wally Judge dunk, and the viciousness and fierceness of his dunks because his size and athleticism, but then there are the guards," Rice said. "When guards dunk, it always looks better. My pick would probably have to be Jerome Seagears. Some of the things he does in practice, I've been a Division I coach for 21 years, I still shake my head at some of the things he can do with his athleticism and his size."

Judge and Seagears represent two of seven newcomers to this year's team. Without a senior under scholarship, the newcomers eligible to play this season — Judge must sit out due to NCAA regulations — cannot wait to introduce themselves to the fans and put on a show.

Those newcomers include McDonald's All-American Myles Mack, Jersey Shore League standout Elijah Carter and forward Derrick Randall, who can expect increased playing time after the injury to Kadeem Jack.

"I think they're very excited," Rice said. "Part of the reason why they came here is so they could help build the program and do it on the floor. These freshmen are excited to go out and show people the potential this Rutgers basketball program has."

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