In years past, the basketball season in these parts began with nothing more than an open practice. On Friday night, WVU officials pulled out all the bells and whistles -- literally -- to tip-off the 2007-08 campaign.
The evening featured several new events for the fans in attendance, including:
Of course the most anticipated event of the evening was the slam dunk contest, which included freshman forward John Flowers, sophomores Da'Sean Butler and Wellington Smith, and high-flying junior Joe Alexander. WVU President Mike Garrison, Morgantown Mayor Ron Justice, Mountaineer Sports Network basketball analyst Jay Jacobs, WVU women's basketball coach Mike Carey, and former UNLV and St. Louis basketball coach Charlie Spoonhour served as honorary judges.
Flowers started things off by taking an alley oop from fellow freshman Will Thomas, seated in the lane under the basket. Next up, Smith calmly tossed the ball off the shot clock, grabbed it in mid-air and slammed it through the hoop. Butler pulled off a nifty two-handed reverse after swooping under the basket, followed by some impressive hang time after taking off from just inside the foul line.
Through the first three dunkers, Flowers had clinched a spot in the finals with five scores of "9" from the judges. Then again, with Alexander on the docket that's like saying somebody has a clubhouse lead with Tiger Woods getting ready to tee off. The Mt. Airy, Md. native has wowed Mountaineer crowds with his athleticism and dunking ability over the past two seasons, and was obviously the favorite coming into Friday night's contest.
To say the least, Jumpin' Joe lived up to the hype. Prior to his first dunk, Alexander walked by the scorer's table pointing at his elbow, telling the judges to keep an eye on it. He then lept up, slammed the ball through the hoop, and remained in the air with the rim tucked under his elbow. The crowd went crazy, as did the judges who gave Alexander a perfect score for his reprised performance of Vince Carter's 2000 NBA All-Star Slam Dunk winner.
Alexander would continue to pay tribute to NBA Slam Dunk Contest legends in the finals when he lept from the foul line a la Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, and Brent Barry.
The evening concluded with brief 10-minute scrimmages for both teams. Obviously there was very little coaching or gameplanning for the scrimmages, but nevertheless, West Virginia fans got their first looks at the 2007-08 Mountaineers.
If Friday night's fan-friendly event is any indication, this season should be full of fun.