Nova Notebook: 'Cats Set for Another 'Hoops Mania'
Oct. 24, 2008
The Nova Notebook, by Villanova director of media relations Mike Sheridan, appears weekly during the fall into the basketball season and periodically from May through August. In this week's installment we take a look at the men's basketball squad as it prepares for the annual Hoops Mania kickoff celebration at the Pavilion on Oct. 24.
The countdown to the start of "Hoops Mania" hovers at a shade over 24 hours. Following its regular practice in the Davis Center, the men's basketball team, coaches and other staffers have walked across the drive into the Pavilion to join a group of 50 people for the walk-through leading up to the big show.
Leaning on the railing with a microphone in hand, Villanova director of marketing and promotions Brian Papson begins to orchestrate the proceedings, which also include members of the cheerleading and dance teams as well as the band. There is no audience yet but there is an energy about the walk-through that underscores the fact that show time is nearly upon us.
"As a kid you grow up watching all the midnight madness stuff on TV," says Scottie Reynolds. "You see that excitement, the fans getting into it and you wonder what it would be like. Now to be a part of it is fun. It reminds us that our program isn't just about us as players - we're part of something bigger with the students, alumni and the fans."
"Hoops Mania" is an event whose growth chart has mirrored that of one of the programs it helps promote. When Wright first returned to Villanova as head coach in 2001, this event was generally held in the 2,500 seat-Jake Nevin Field House. Wright and former associate head coach Brett Gunning, who had created a popular basketball kickoff party each year during their seven seasons at Hofstra from 1994-2001, aimed to build on some of the same principals.
It was, in many respects, a process of trial and error.
In 2001, the show expanded to include elements not seen previously including appearances by celebrity guests and enhanced promotional giveaways. Less successful was a concept featuring the head coach in a parody of the "Weakest Link" television show. And all of the new elements added to the length of the show, pushing its end time to after 11 p.m. in year one.
With each passing year, however, a core concept came together. The length of the event was reduced and promotions were tweaked. Then, in 2005, the decision was made to shift the venue to the Pavilion in anticipation of a season that featured the Wildcats in the top five of every national poll. The shift to the Pavilion allowed more fans to attend and created new entertainment possibilities with larger space for video and audio components.
The Pavilion filled quickly that night in '05 and the event was highlighted by the appearance of senior forward Curtis Sumpter, who only days earlier had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee for the second time in six months. As he came on to the court to a roaring cheer through a line of cheerleaders, he grabbed a set of pom-poms to symbolize his role as the Wildcats biggest fan that season.
The next chapter of "Hoops Mania" actually began to be authored in a most unlikely setting - a softball field in Paterson, N.J. It was during an appearance in the summer of 2006 at a charity event headlined by former Wildcat star Tim Thomas that Wright encountered musician Lloyd Banks. The two chatted at third base and Wright encouraged Banks to attend "Hoops Mania." Banks consented but it was anyone's guess if the words of July would translate into an October appearance.
Thanks in no small part to the efforts of Thomas, Banks followed through. He was set to appear when, ten days prior to the event, word came that he had landed an appearance on the "Jimmy Kimmel Live" show on ABC the same night the event was scheduled for. So in his place another G Unit member, Tony Yayo was asked to fill in. He arrived early, did a couple of media interviews and prepared to go on.
A few minutes before the lights were to come up, Wright approached a couple of basketball staff members to inform them that there would be a special guest that night. It was only then that word began to spread through the audience that 50 Cent might appear before the show was complete.
Then, shortly after Yayo performed he introduced his friend 50 Cent.
"I was shocked," stated current Wildcat senior Dwayne Anderson. "It was just amazing."
50 Cent performed two songs and created the kind of buzz that soon made his performance a You Tube staple. The appearance was mentioned in national magazines and still resonates two years after it happened.
"It's my favorite `Hoops Mania' memory," says Anderson.
The 2007 event included the appearance of National League Most Valuable Player Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies, Brian Westbrook and a performance by Mims. It was another electric night inside the Pavilion.
Now we are almost upon the 2008 event. This endeavor has been in the works for better than three months and consists of a joint effort on the part of Papson and his marketing and promotions staff along with the men's basketball staff.
"It's something that we all work together on and that's one of the best parts of Hoops Mania," states Wright. "It includes everyone in our community - students, alumni, faculty, our athletic department staff, the women's basketball team, the football team and our team. Everybody comes together so that we can celebrate the start of the basketball season.
"I know our guys are excited and we are too."
After more than an hour spent on the walkthrough, the players make their way into the Pavilion Press Room for dinner. While there remains quite a bit of preparation time left before the regular season commences, "Hoops Mania" is nearly here.
"It's just a fun time for everyone," says Reynolds.
The evolution of the event continues on Friday evening inside a Pavilion for which all available tickets have been spoken for.