Since it began 39 years ago, Midnight Madness has become one of the most creative events in sports because it brings the past, present and future together. Schools honor their old stars and introduce their current rosters, all while high-prized recruits sit courtside in awe. But beyond the basketball element, it’s a chance for fans, players and coaches who are generally very serious to have fun and celebrate the college basketball new year. Celebrities sometimes make unexpected cameos, future NBA Lottery picks often don ridiculous costumes, and Hall-of-Fame coaches in their 60s throw on baggy clothes and dance to hip-hop.
Friday night, Late Night With Roy – North Carolina’s Midnight Madness tradition hosted by ESPN’s Stuart Scott – epitomized what the once-a-year event should be about.
The Tar Heels introduced their highly-regarded freshman class of Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall, who came out in blue shirts and jeans. But Barnes eventually switched to a pumpkin suit, Bullock to a banana costume and Marshall to a penguin outfit as they danced to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA.”
The sophomores danced in Snuggies, and the juniors wore black tank-tops and fake gelled hair as they did a “Jersey Shore” parody.
The best part of all occurred, though, when Coach Roy Williams threw on a fedora, grabbed a cane, and started dancing, all as five-star recruits L.J. Rose, Shabazz Muhammad and Cody Zeller (Tyler’s brother) looked on.
But after the lock-steps and grapevines were over, there was ball to be played and a new-look team to show that the horrid 20-17 record of a year ago is a distant nightmare.
Sophomore guard Dexter Strickland, who spent most of last year at the point but will likely see more time at the two this season, led all scorers in the scrimmage with 16 points. As usual, the former St. Patrick (NJ) HS star used his explosive speed to get out on the break and attack the rim for some easy buckets. But more importantly, he knocked down perimeter shots – including two 3s in a row at one point – an area he had serious difficulties with last season.
While Strickland paced the scoring attack, Barnes was probably the most impressive player all night. The 6-8 freshman already has an NBA body and can beat you in so many ways. He handles pick-and-rolls extremely well, turning corners like an NFL running back and attacking the rim hard. The Iowa native also connected on a couple mid-range shots and a three. He’s only 18, but he really does have the poise and confidence of an NBA veteran, as cliché as it sounds.
Though these are not the national championship caliber Tar Heels fans in Chapel Hill have grown accustomed to, these are also not the Heels of last year, and it should be interesting to see how this young core gels over the course of the season.
But now, across the country, the canes of Friday night have been replaced by basketballs, the costumes by jerseys. The New Year’s party was fun for the participants, but the hangover is gone. There are three-man weaves to be executed, foot fires to be performed and suicides to be run in preparation for the season, which is just a few weeks away. As the late Hall-of-Fame Coach John Wooden put it, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
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