Every Villanova student knows it is time for the basketball season to begin when they receive an email for the Hoops Mania ticket lottery. As a senior, knowing this would be my last as a student, it was a very bittersweet moment as I put in for a ticket. Lottery results would be posted online at 4:00PM on Monday afternoon, and after anxiously waiting, I was lucky enough to have won a highly coveted ticket.
As the week ensued, I had to come up with a plan to receive the best ticket in the Pavilion (a lower level ticket). These tickets are the first ones given out and it is very easy to miss getting one of these if you are not in the front of the line right when pickup starts. Pickup was slated to begin at 8:00AM on Wednesday morning, and I thought it would be safe to arrive at 7:30 (which turned out to be a bad idea -it would have been a huge mistake). I talked to a few friends and they told me that they heard students saying they were going to line up at 5:30AM.
A received a text from one of my friends who also won a ticket and he planned on meeting me at my off-campus apartment at 6:30 AM. Shortly thereafter, we drove to campus, only to find the line was already to the corner of Lancaster and Ithan Avenues. At the line’s peak, it was probably to the 20-yard line at Villanova Stadium. It was unreal. I have been at the front of long ticket wait lines throughout my years at Villanova, but I have never seen anything like it. Jay Wright’s twitter page said over 1,000 students braved the bitter cold to wait and get their tickets.
Ticket pick up started just before 8:00AM, and shortly thereafter, the line started to slowly move inside Jake Nevin Field House. I saw friends of mine who were ahead of me and they told me I should receive a lower level ticket, but when I was seventh or eighth in line, I heard there were only two left. My heart sank. When I stepped up to the ticket window, I saw a fresh stack of green lower level tickets. Was the wait worth it? Absolutely.
Finally, Friday arrived. I took my place in line at about 3:45PM even though doors didn’t open until 5:30pm. I was one of the first 20 students in line. As the doors opened, I rushed into the Pavilion in hopes of scoring a front row seat behind the bench where the team would sit. I sat down in my coveted seat in complete relief and looked around at the spectacle. As the lights went out, I knew the fun was about to begin.
The women’s basketball team was introduced first. Then the men’s basketball team made their entrance in a line with their navy-blue hoods up and hands on each other’s shoulders from the tunnel. One half of the team came in close to my side and the other half was by the Villanova bench. They all lined up in a V formation and the team played a video with them quoting a speech by civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Darryl Reynolds took the mic, and said “All lives matter, we are one nation under God, one Nova Nation.” The crowd went wild. Next, Josh Hart took the mic, followed by Kris Jenkins who introduced Coach Wright.
The one value that sticks out about Villanova Basketball is that it is a family. It was great to see many former players return for Hoops Mania. The team wore shirts saying, “We play for those who came before us” with the 1985 and 2016 Final Four logos on the sleeves. Probably the biggest surprise of the night was seeing the godfather of Villanova Basketball, Rollie Massimino. Coach Wright shared with the crowd that back when he joined the coaching staff, Coach Mass gave him a 1985 championship ring, even though he was not a part of the team back then. He was so touched by that gesture that he decided to do the same for Coach Mass. Coach Wright started to choke up as he presented a 2016 Championship ring to his mentor.
After that, there were highlights of last year’s run to the championship. Shortly after the highlights, the winningest senior class made their entrance. Unfortunately, Daniel Ochefu could not attend but made a video stating his support and encouragement to this year’s team. He then surprised the Pavilion by announcing the return of Ryan Arcidiacono. The stands and the team went wild!
Later the current team entered to receive their rings. During the 1985, 2016, and the current team’s introductions, three new banners were unveiled in the rafters of the Pavilion. The highlight of the night was the unveiling of the 2016 National Champions banner front and center above the student section. It was a great moment and something many, including myself, have dreamed about for a very long time.
Later, the team danced with the Villanova Dance Team. For many students Hoops Mania is all about the concert, but for me, I love seeing the team show off their dance moves.
There was also a three point shooting contest featuring a sorority sister, a fraternity brother, a women’s basketball player, and a men’s basketball player. Team Hart won easily. Shortly after, the team held their annual intra-squad scrimmage. After Omari Spellman threw down a nice one handed dunk, streamers were thrown in a salute to the Big 5 tradition.
The dunk contest followed, and once that concluded [with Darryl Reynolds emerging the victor], Wiz Khalifa took the stage for his performance.
Hoops Mania is a special event to celebrate the past successes of Villanova Basketball and a look ahead to this year’s team. It was also great seeing the Nova Nation out in full force coming together for the final championship celebration. Walking out of my final Hoops Mania as a senior, I had a sense of awe and also excitement as I look ahead to the upcoming season.