Pump up the volume! For those who thought the women's introduction was loud, the Gampel sound system was given a workout leading up to and including the men's introduction. Like they did for Geno Auriemma, the crowd gave men's head coach, Jim Calhoun, a huge ovation followed by the customary speech officially kicking off the season.
Like the women, the men held a their three point shooting contest that pitted Craig Austrie against Rob Garrison in one semi final and Doug Wiggins against Ben Eaves in the other. Last year, Rob bested Craig in the finals for the three point crown, but this time around Craig came out on top. Catching fire on the last two racks, Doug Wiggins pulled away from the hot shooting Ben Eaves, making it an all Connecticut final. In the finals, Austrie jumped out to an early lead but Wiggins closed the gap with a late flurry that fell short, giving this year's three point crown to Stamford's Craig Austrie.
The most exciting segment of the evening had to be the slam dunk competition, which was the best we've seen in years. Curtis Kelly started out the competition with a creative bounce off the shot clock, catch and one hander that bounded off the rim. If it had gone down it would have been one of the best dunks of the evening.
Even the big fellah, 7 foot, 3 inch, Hasheem Thabeet showed off how nimble he could be by tossing the ball backwards between his legs, spinning around, and throwing it down after it bounded off of the backboard.
Jerome Dyson followed with what most thought would be the dunk of the night. Dice tossed the ball up in the air, caught it off the bounce and threw down a violent windmill jam, netting two tens and a nine. Next came Stanley Robinson who picked up some big points on a huge windmill dunk, but it was not enough to overtake the leader, Dyson.
In a surprise turn of events, Dyson, who was declared the winner, got the crowd to coax Marcus Johnson out of retirement. MJ didn't disappoint, connecting on a foul line reach-back one hander that brought much of the crowd to their feet, followed by an even bigger jam where he elevated, dropped down and finished off a spectacular windmill. Not knowing quite what to do, Kevin Nathan, asked for another 30 seconds on the clock, giving Dyson a chance to recapture the contest, which he had won just minutes earlier. Taking full advantage of the opportunity, Dyson eclipsed Johnson's performance with a between the legs one hander, capped off with a bounder off the floor and one hand flush that sealed the victory for good.
The evening festivities ended with the men's scrimmage. As he's done all preseason long, Jeff Adrien dominated most of the inside action scoring in a variety of ways. He started off the game by winning the tap against the 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet. He scored the last points of the first half, finishing a lay-up in transition. In the second half Jeff connected on a pair of 10 footers. One he kissed off the glass and the other was on a nice power move where he sealed the defender to the outside and then stepped into the paint for a straight on J that caught nothing but the bottom of the net. Jeff also knocked down a couple from close range. On one, he backed his defender into the paint and banked it in for two.
Shortly after losing the tip to Adrien, Thabeet redeemed himself with a rim rattling jam. Hasheem showed off his rebounding ability by snatching one well above the rim in the first half and picking another one from behind a wall of rebounders without making contact. Late in the second half, he again used that long reach, snuffing out an ill fated Mandeldove turnaround J.
The UConn big men contributed on the offensive end throughout the evening. Curtis Kelly got on the board early in the second half, by scoring quickly off the tip, on a lay-up in transition. Jon Mandeldove followed with two of his own, connecting on one of his patented lefty hooks in the paint. Gavin Edwards showed he belonged out there with the rest of his teammates by converting off a nice Dyson feed under the basket, and followed that up a few plays later with a lefty hook of his own.
The wings were very active in both halves. MJ connected right away, slamming one down in transition for the first points of the game. In the second half, he picked Adrien's pocket in the right corner while Jeff was trying to make his move to the basket. Stanley Robinson struggled with his shot throughout most of the scrimmage, but finally connected on what turned out to be the effort of the evening. Robinson drove the left side and threw up a tough runner in traffic which got tipped on its way to the rim. Stanley leaped above the others and tipped it back toward the rim but it again bounded back in his direction. Not willing to give up, he again outwrestled the scrum of players for the ball and tipped it back in for his first two points of the evening.
The young guards shouldered much of the offense. Doug Wiggins led all the guards in scoring, knocking down four three pointers. In the second half, Garrison hit a three from the right side, followed by Dyson a few minutes later with three of his own, off a nice feed by AJ Price. Ben Eaves found himself on the receiving end of another AJ Price pass where he too connected beyond the arc. AJ did a nice job in both halves setting up his teammates for high percentage shots. Both he and Doug Wiggins threaded the needle from the top of the key, connecting with their teammates under the basket. Unfortunately in both cases, neither teammate could finish what each guard started.
Craig Austrie might have used up most of his bullets during the three point contest, but found other ways to contribute. As the first half was coming to a close, he kept the ball alive at the rim, getting fouled in the process sending him to the line.
In addition to hitting a three pointer, Rob Garrison had the drive of the night, lofting a soft floater over a wall of defenders as he drove the lane for two. He capped off he evening scoring a transition lay-up for the winning basket in overtime.
With a number of visiting recruits, believed to be Alex Oriakhi, Jamaal Combs, Devin Ebanks and Murphy Holloway, looking on from behind the bench, there was little doubt that this year's collection of Huskies, especially the freshmen, were having a great time in front of a crowd unlike any they'd seen before. Tomorrow, when the doors are shut to the public, will be a whole other story.