Men’s hoops enjoys Midnight Madness event once again

by Jabari Ritchie

At Midnight Madness Friday, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team kicked off its season at midnight for the first time since 1999. And this year, the Gophers’ first season without NCAA sanctions, Minnesota’s fans and players felt they finally had something to be excited about.”

“It was definitely a lot of fun and there was a lot of energy,” junior guard Shane Schilling said. “It was just the starting point of what we hope is going to be a great season.”

Midnight Madness was not held last season and the event in 1999 was overshadowed by the program’s academic fraud scandal.

“There were a lot more people than I thought would show up because the first year with coach Monson, the turnout was pretty bad,” said senior forward Dusty Rychart. “This year, we publicized it a little more and people came out. It seemed like there was a lot more energy in the air.”

Most of the lower level of Williams Arena was filled for the musical performances, contests and celebrity shoot-out which took place as the crowd waited for midnight.

Then the Gopher players stepped onto the floor for a crowd-pleasing dunk contest followed by a scrimmage. Tyree Bolden’s game-winning dunk was completed with his shirt pulled over his head.

The Gophers’ top 10 recruiting class, highlighted by McDonald’s All-American forward Rick Rickert, played in Minnesota uniform for the first time.

“I’m a bit nervous, but there’s a lot of excitement going on,” freshman Maurice Hargrow said. “This is good for everybody to kind of join together. Especially for the new comers, to get the feel of that atmosphere of playing in front of thousands of fans. They bring so much energy.”

Rickert, who participated in the dunk contest and made both of his three-point attempts in the scrimmage, said the season can “only get better.”

“We’re all pretty ecstatic about it,” he said. “We’re looking forward to this year. It’s going to be quite an experience.”

Sophomore forward Michael Bauer said he can relate to some of the Gophers recruits’ nervousness.

“At Midnight Madness my freshman year, my eyes were in the headlights like a deer,” he said. “But this time I’m a little more relaxed and I’m enjoying it a little bit more. I’m just kind of sitting back, realizing what this is to everybody besides me. To me, this is fun.”

Coach Dan Monson, who spoke to the crowd from the sidelines during the scrimmage, said he was excited by the high turnout.

“I think it’s something that our students are back and involved,” he said. “That says to me that basketball’s back. I think there’s less uncertainty with the program right now… The reception’s different and the enthusiasm’s different. I just hope that on the court we can keep that enthusiasm going.”