After coming thisclose to the Elite Eight last season, the Mountaineers are hoping for more of the same and then some in 2008-09.
West Virginia tipped off its much-anticipated season on Friday night with Mountaineer Madness presented by Full Throttle. An estimated 8,000 fans came out to the Coliseum for the annual event, which featured an hour-long autograph session prior to the on-court festivities.
Perhaps the biggest star of the night was the Coliseum itself. The 38-year old jewel of WVU's Evansdale campus now boasts several brand new state-of-the-art amenities.
Fans stood in awe of the new video board and sound system, both of which are significant upgrades to their predecessors. You can also file the new lighting system under the "significant upgrade" file. Flaps over the lights allow for a quick and smooth transition between darkness and light, which is a far cry from the old system. These three elements – the video board, sound system and lighting – should make for some added pizzazz to West Virginia's pregame introductions.
A newly sanded and painted Coliseum floor was also viewed by the general public for the first time.
Of course it wouldn't be the preseason if there weren't one or two gaffes. The only noticeable malfunction on Friday night occurred when a portion of the weight-room-end ribbon shut down midway through the night.
Last season, WVU basketball fans were welcomed to Huggstown with taped video messages from Michael Jordan, Dick Vitale, Clark Kellogg and Nick Lachey.
This year, departed forward Joe Alexander checked in with the crowd via a taped message prior to player introductions. Before head coach Bob Huggins was introduced, messages from football head coach Bill Stewart and WVU legend Hot Rod Hundley (alongside the Utah Jazz mascot) were broadcast over the new system.
Stewart's message was another new addition as in recent years there has been little to no vocal support of WVU's men's basketball program from the leader of its football brethren.
Thomas gets a tip of the cap for his attempted creativity during the slamfest, but in the end, the only thing that counts is execution. The Cleveland, Ohio native aimed high in the finals, but was unable to execute the ambitious dunks.
Thus, all Ebanks needed to do was complete a pair of dunks and he would likely win the contest. The high-flying freshman chose to win with a little more style, though, getting some serious air time on his first dunk and pulling himself up onto the rim after the second.
Ebanks and fellow freshmen Darryl "Truck" Bryant and Kevin Jones may be able to say that they have now broken a longtime record held by Olympic great Carl Lewis. Unfortunately, it's the record for "worst National Anthem performance by an athlete".
At the behest of senior guard Alex Ruoff, the freshmen trio "honored" America with a…unique?...rendition of Francis Scott Key's Star Spangled Banner. As for their place on the all-time list, the trio surpassed Lt. Frank Drebin, but didn't come anywhere close to Whitney Houston.
Several big-time recruits were in attendance for Friday's event. Dan Jennings, one of two Class of 2009 verbal commitments for the Mountaineers, took in the action from a spot behind the Mountaineer bench. West Virginia's top remaining target for the Class of 2009, Mountain State Academy forward Deniz Kilicli, made his second trip to Morgantown in three weeks to take in the event, and appeared to enjoy every minute of the proceedings.
Kilicli was serenaded by chants of "We want Deniz!" by the WVU students.
A pair of 2010 prospects from Mountain State also made the trip. Point guard Noah Cottrill, who committed to the Mountaineers last summer as a rising sophomore, was there with his father, Rick. Shooting guard prospect Kofi Mensa was also in town. Mensa does not show and offer yet from the Mountaineers, but West Virginia's coaches will certainly be keeping track of the athletic two-man throughout his junior season.
BlueGoldNews.com traveled to Mountain State Academy on Thursday night and will post interviews, photos and video from that trip at the beginning of next week.
The Mountaineers took the court for a 10-minute scrimmage at the end of the night, but quickly drew the ire of assistant coach Billy Hahn for a noticeable lack of focus and intensity in the brief run. Hahn called a timeout roughly two and a half minutes into the scrimmage, and quickly got his point across in the huddle. Following Hahn's timeout, the aforementioned lack of focus and intensity were nowhere to be found.
Note to Mountaineer fans: try not to read much – if anything – into the 10-minute sneak preview. West Virginia will not begin full-time practice until next Friday. By the time the exhibition against Mountain State University rolls around on November 8, a clearer picture – albeit not a finished product – should be available with regard to this year's team.