Basketball season begins with First Night
Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Updated: Sunday, October 14, 2012 23:10
The official beginning to the UConn basketball season kicked off Friday night at Gampel Pavilion with the annual UConn First Night. Fans got their first look at the 2012-2013 players and coaches from both the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
After a disappointing season that ended with a first round-exit in the NCAA Tournament, the men’s basketball team is experiencing its biggest transition since 1986. For the first time in 26 years, the face of the University of Connecticut, Jim Calhoun was not introduced as the head men’s basketball coach. Instead, a former player and coach under Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, has been chosen to lead the Huskies up the stairs and back to college basketball greatness.
“I do want this team to be the best attitude team in America,” Ollie said. “I want you to work hard, I want you to love your teammates and especially love this university.”
On the other side, Geno Auriemma enters his 27th season as UConn women’s basketball head coach. Auriemma’s team is expected to be one of the top teams again this season with most of last year’s Final Four team returning as well as the addition of highly-touted freshman Breanna Stewart.
The festivities began with player and coaches introductions. Each player emerged through a haze of smoke and added a dance to the delight of a crowd of over 6,000.
A tribute video of last year’s basketball season was followed by a video from Jim Calhoun. He thanked the fans and players for 26 great years at UConn, adding “UConn will always be my baby but now it is Kevin’s turn.”
Although, the official announcement of Ollie as the new men’s basketball coach came a month ago, the moment for Ollie to address the UConn student body came Friday night.
“To my squad, they’re the reason I stand here. They didn’t transfer. They stayed,” Ollie said with a microphone in his hand. Ollie was referencing three contributors from last season’s team leaving UConn in lieu of their ban from postseason play, most notably Missouri senior Alex Oriakhi. “And with their loyalty, I had to come back. Thank coach [Jim Calhoun] for giving me this opportunity.”
He was interrupted by a chant that formed in the rafters of Gampel Pavilion. Slowly the chant grew, “Kev-in Oll-ie,” followed by five rhythmic claps. There was no sign of Calhoun; just Ollie in the center of the court.
The first contest of the night was the three-point competition. Three players from the men’s and women’s teams had a minute to make as many three point shots from five designated spots around the arc. The first three balls in a rack were worth one point and the final ball of each rack was a “money ball worth two. Sophomore DeAndre Daniels and two freshmen Leon Tolksdorf and Omar Calhoun represented the men’s team. Sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, redshirt senior Caroline Doty and freshman Megan Tuck were the shooters from the women’s squad. Mosqueda-Lewis won the contest with 20 points, while Doty was second with 16. The low-scorer was Daniels, who only managed six points.
The fans got involved in the next competition: Ultimate Knockout. Eleven students were selected from the Gampel crowd to participate in the contest along with all 11 players from the men’s team and all 11 women’s players. Everybody got in line and shot a free throw.
Because the game took on such a slow pace, DJ Joe D switched up the rules mid-game and made the shooters back up to the three-point line. 3rd-semester pre-athletic training major Jack Adams was the last student on the floor that didn’t play basketball for UConn. Due to time constraints, DJ Joe D interrupted the game when he noticed this and gave the ball to Adams. Adams was told that if he made his next shot, he’d be declared the victor. The Scarborough, Me. native nailed his three-point shot from the top of the arc and caused Gampel to erupt.
“My favorite part was being able to hang out with all the players,” Adams said after the competition. “Caroline [Doty] helped me stay in, so I got to thank her for that.”
Auriemma and junior Stephanie Dolson were joined by Ollie and sophomore Ryan Boatright for a game of “Know Your Teammate.” Similar to “The Newlywed Game,” each player/coach had to guess what the other had guessed in a series of questions to determine how well they knew each other. Ollie and Boatright won, 4-2.
The final even was the Slam Dunk Contest. Six judges—the most notable was UConn President Susan Herbst—congregated at half-court and gave players a score from 1-10 based on their dunk. The athletes had 30 seconds to complete their dunk. Of the four players involved, three were freshmen: Breanna Stewart representing the women’s team, and Philip Nolan and Omar Calhoun participating from the men’s team. The defending champion Boatright was the lone upperclassman in the competition.