Oct. 17, 2009
By GREGG BELL SEATTLE
AP SPORTS WRITER
SEATTLE-- Laughs were the theme of Washington's nationally televised "Midnight Madness" Friday night, held in front of a cheering Huskies crowd estimated at 6,000.
A dunk contest, a 3-point shootout and a freewheeling scrimmage played as hip-hop music blared were part of the crowd-pleasing event, which marks the first day the NCAA allows teams to begin preseason practices.
Dynamo Isaiah Thomas, the smallest man on Washington's roster, won the dunk contest by soaring over a teammate who is a foot taller. Last season's Pac-10 freshman of the year later playfully woofed in the face of teammate Quincy Pondexter after making a 3-point basket.
About the only intensity of the night was freshman forward Clarence Trent barking at a referee for a foul call during the scrimmage.
"Midnight Madness" is a tradition at Kentucky and other powerhouse programs, but the Huskies haven't held an event in several years.
ESPN commentator Steve Lavin called Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar several weeks ago to ask if Washington would be the West Coast school for the network's coast-to-coast "Midnight Madness" coverage. Lavin, the former UCLA head coach, worked with Romar when he was a Bruins assistant.
"Anytime we can get our program national recognition, across the country, it's hard to turn that down," said Romar, whose games usually begin at hours when East Coast viewers are headed to bed.
Pondexter, Washington's only senior and the team leader now that star Jon Brockman is in the NBA, had his own personal highlight. Two young women in matching Jake Locker No. 10 Washington football jerseys emerged from the students' section for a fan-participation shooting contest. They planted simultaneous kisses on both of Pondexter's cheeks.
"Oh, my God! That's going to be on YouTube tomorrow," a sheepish Pondexter said over the public address system.
Abdul Gaddy, the Washington state Class 4A high school player of the year last spring at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, got a roaring standing ovation when he was introduced through smoke in the darkened arena. But, true to his understated persona, Gaddy didn't play it up for the crowd.
Thomas and most others did.
"We have several hams on our team that this event is made for," Romar joked.
Players gathered at midcourt for a what looked to be a staid rendition of the Huskies' fight song "Bow Down to Washington." But Pondexter cut in with a hip-hop version, complete with sophomore forward Darnell Gant beat-boxing and Thomas and guard Venoy Overton jumping up and down.
The dunk contest was judged by former Huskies Todd McCullough, who went on to an NBA career, Christian Welp, who became Washington's all-time leading scorer in the mid-1980s, and Eldridge Recasner, a former three-time All-Pac-10 player.
The judges - along with the boisterous crowd - ultimately made the 5-foot-8 Thomas the winner.
As Thomas positioned 6-foot-9 teammate Matthew Bryan-Amaning in front of the hoop for his final dunk, Romar cautioned over the public address system: "Isaiah, we've got practice tomorrow."
Thomas then ran from halfcourt, spread his legs, soared over Bryan-Amaning's broad shoulders and slammed the ball through the hoop.
The crowd, teammates and the coach erupted, and Romar chest bumped his guard. Lavin even applauded from his courtside seat. Recasner was so impressed he flashed a 19 for Thomas on the supposed scale of 1-10.
Pondexter and defensive stopper Justin Holiday both had offseason hernia surgery and were held out of the dunk contest. Redshirt freshman Tyreese Breshers, coming off knee and shin injuries, also sat out.
But all participated in the scrimmage and are ready for the season.