Midnight Madness 2011: LOUD NOISES and Other Familiar Things

Oct. 19, 2011

A giant pile of thundersticks. 

The first image of the 2011-12 basketball season for many Georgetown students: hundreds upon hundreds of glow-in-the-dark percussion toys, stacked waste deep in the foyer of McDonough Gym. 

I’m momentarily mesmerized by the rhythmic flashing of the tiny blue strobe lights imbedded in the white balloons reading WE ARE GEORGETOWN.  What’s one more distraction, I figure, after an offseason of newsworthy items from McDonough Gym to Beijing to, apparently tonight, Boise.

So many questions heading into Midnight Madness:

Who inflated all those thundersticks? (Check out the third picture)

How have the Hoyas grown from their exhibition tour of China and a thrilling Kenner League season?

Would it hurt if I dove into the thunderstick pile, Scrooge McDuck style?

Which of the Hoya legends in this video would appear tonight?

Glow-in-the-dark thundersticks: how do they work?

Who is, or is not, in the Big East Conference right now?

Right, that last one.

Midnight Madness is in one sense provides the fall’s first answers to the summer’s burning questions.  This is all well and good when those questions are “Who’s our starting backcourt?” or “Is this highly-ranked freshman worth the hype?”  When a key question confronting Big East teams at this year’s Midnight Madness is: “Who will be Big East teams at next year’s Midnight Madness?” there’s much less a layup line can do help.

And then there is the burning question of your humble blogger, on his 11th Georgetown Midnight Madness, staring into a pile of 1,789 (*what I assume the GU scorekeeper’s count would be) thundersticks:

What does this all mean?

I’m not typically inclined to existential crises (Camus and Sartre were never my thing in H.S. English), and a mid-life crisis shouldn’t be in my wheelhouse (I’m 29 and cannot yet afford a convertible sports car), but as I scan the flashing thundersticks for Morse Code clues about whether Allen Iverson will appear tonight, pondering the upheaval in the conference landscape, I’m wondering what I could possibly write about Midnight Madness that would get me excited after all these years.  Midnight Madness is at the same time comforting and familiar, the annual welcome to my favorite sport, yet in this autumn of upheaval, strangely foreign and lacking a certain…something…as I walk into McDonough.

Like a giant pile of thundersticks, Midnight Madness is mesmerizing and distracting, but I’m not sure what to make of it.

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What I hear of it is a bass line.

The familiar Midnight Madness siren call of speaker feedback and hamburger smell* beckoned me from the McDonough parking lot, as it has each October in this millennium.

(*Soulja Boy and GUGS smoke, I once called it.  Only the burgers survived this year, which is a real shame, given Patrick Ewing Jr.’s expected attendance.)

I normally can’t get enough of this, and not just on account of the burgers.  The pre-Madness festivities for Hoya fans are equal parts contemporary history lesson, carnival, and awkward freshman mixer. 

This year hits the marks.  The 2010-11 season highlight film plays on a giant screen, the Hoyas victory at the Carrier Dome interspersed with a cliffs notes version of the last four years of Midnight Madness friendly hip-hop.  Beneath a small tent, Hollis Thompson and friends goof around at a pop-a-shot station, and students making casual conversation in line at the door sport HOYA ’15 shirts.

It just isn’t registering, the wave of excitement washing over me as I stay stuck in the sand…or, more to the point, as I stare into my phone…

A few years ago, your humble blogger took on another vocation in the world of Hoya Hoop Club communications.  In addition to blogging and recapping, I’m now one of the 140-character-or-less voices behind the Hoya Hoop Club Twitter account

The logistics aren’t especially complicated: a pen in one holster, a smartphone in the other.  The mindset is a different matter: between @hoyahoopclub and my own Twitter account, I’m following 182 fellow Tweeters, and always a refresh away from a cacophony of college basketball news in text message-sized bursts.

And as I sit at a table beneath the tent, the news is hitting like a tidal wave.  Before my nostrils can fully take in the aroma of seasoned salt and Worcestershire sauce from the GUGS grill, @CBSSports reporter @McMurphyCBS flashes across the top of my phone’s Twitter timeline, citing sources claiming the Big East Conference intends to issue invitations to Boise State, UCF, Navy, and Air Force within the next week.

As a story, conference realignment has been a bewildering distraction over the past month, since the fateful Saturday afternoon when I learned (via Twitter, of course) of Syracuse’s and Pittsburgh’s agreement to depart for the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

Now, as then, I’m not quite sure what to make of it.  Certainly, the loss of two longtime conference rivals—I’ve written before of the zen of our rivalries with the Panthers and the Orange—is an unsettling blow to all that’s familiar to Hoya fans.

Pittsburgh? That’s the game in the framed photo above my desk.

Syracuse? That’s the rivalry that built the conference.

UCF? Well…umm…my sister went there.

On the traditional opening of the college basketball season, I ponder what will become of our familiar Big East traditions.  In a few years’ time, it occurs to me, the Big East football membership may be anchored by a program in Idaho that plays football on a blue turf field.  I’m in no mood for pop-a-shot.

(To be fair, this alone warrants an exception for all things Boise.)

Times change, I suppose.  As I walk towards the side entrance of McDonough, I pass along tennis courts that, in a few years’ time, will likely be the site of a 125,000 square foot Intecollegiate Athletic Center, plans for which were unveiled in mid-September.

It’s been a noisy past few weeks, I consider, as I stroll through the McDonough lobby, past a giant pile of…

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…thundersticks.  

Midnight Madness tips off at 8:42pm with the sounds of 2,000 sets of thundersticks clapping.  A month of noise about media rights negotiations, exit fees, and TV markets has given way to…well, just noise.

I’m still distracted, although not over whether my Twitter timeline is reporting that the Big East is adding SFS-Qatar as a football-only member.  Instead, I’ve returned to a more familiar and comforting role: the intrepid blogger, seeking out kernels of inside information (or, failing that, listening for whatever linkable dance rap song comes on next).

I’m on deep background with a confidential source in the inner circles of the McDonough administration…okay, to be more accurate: I’m talking to my fellow Hoop Club Board member Karen Schneider, who has a few leads to pass on.

Midnight Madness 2011 was hyped as “PAST MEETS PRESENT,” and rumors have run the gamut from a possible Alumni Game to appearances by Hoya greats Patrick Ewing and a fellow who goes by the not-so-subtle Twitter handle @alleniverson.  The upper level of the McDonough bleachers has become a Who’s Who of Hoya legends from the past four decades, too many in numbers (and too quick to scurry towards the back room) to count.

But I’ve got a good source, and Karen begins rattling off a vintage lineup of Hoya greats: Eric Smith, Gene Smith, David Wingate, Lonnie Duren, John Duren…

…the names keep coming, from newer generations: Jerome Williams, Ronny Thompson, Anthony Perry, Patrick Ewing Jr., Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert…

…and as Hoop Club President Al Bozzo runs over to tell me, Nat Burton.

Nat Burton…now’s there’s a familiar name. 

I smile at the thought that my “Generation” is now considered eligible for Hoya legend status (about that sports car…).  More than that, I smile at the thought that after all these years, people still run over to tell me that Nat Burton is in the building.  Some things never change.

But some things do change, improbably enough. 

The “We Are Georgetown” shirts—a product of a subsequent generation—have evidently undergone a makeover.  I’m told this by Kurt Muhlbauer, the shirt’s original designer, who received a courtesy call from the Athletic Department seeking his approval.  The trademark III has shrunk, replaced by a mid-sized DC IS OUR PLAYGROUND logo.  What’s next: Duke-Syracuse as a conference game?

And the 2011-12 slogan for Kurt Shirt v.2?

something-something Building a Legacy.”

We’re not sure what to make of it…too much feedback noise from the microphone.

Before we can call up Hoya Blue’s voting list, the lights dim in McDonough, and the thundersticks light up.

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“Guarding the Tradition, Building a Legacy” is the new WAG slogan, I’m informed by the helpful folks from @CasualHoya.

And who shall guard Georgetown’s basketball tradition in the 2011-12 season?

A young team indeed—one that features 10 underclassmen on the official roster

Of all the changes and movement in the landscape of college sports, the most directly impactful to Georgetown’s fortunes right now are the graduation of three players for whom the DC IS OUR PLAYGROUND slogan was invented: Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, and Julian Vaughn.

Will the Hoyas be able to replace their three departed seniors?

In entertainment value…they’re well on their way.

Your 2011-12 Hoyas: Jabril Trawick (a ball of energy sporting an AI-style arm sleeve), Tyler Adams (over his injury, but walking w/ cane in a funny play on his resemblance to Biggie Smalls), Nate Lubick (his fanny pack and old person walk a slap to the backboard of convention), Markel Starks (if he runs an offense as good as he orchestrates crowd reaction to “Let’s Get it On”…), John Caprio (the strangest wig I have ever seen), Henry Sims (WHY IS EVERYBODY LOOKING AT ME reads his t-shirt).

They won’t be boring, that’s for sure.

Thing is, we already have some perspective on the relative skill of the 2011-12 Hoyas. 

True, some are new to their roles on the team.  Some are new to college basketball altogether.  But they’re already familiar to many Hoya fans on the court.

Lost in all of the noise of conference realignments over the past few months: it was an eventful summer of basketball for Hoya fans.

There was of course the front page news from the Hoyas trip to China.  But flip to the box scores, and you’ll find three consecutive victories and well-balanced scoring up and down the Hoyas roster.  Log into your Twitter account, and you’ll find links to Jabril Trawick freestyling in the Forbidden City

Jabril Trawick is creative and passionate on the court as well.  During a steamy Washington D.C. July, Trawick and fellow “Tombs” freshmen Adams, Mikael Hopkins, Greg Whittington, and Otto Porter nearly pulled off the most impressive championship run I’ve seen in over seven years of attending the Kenner League. 

The 2011 Kenner League Championship—a 105-101 double OT classic won by a Clyde’s team featuring Greg Monroe, Jeff Green, and Austin Freeman—was the single best summer league game I’ve ever witnessed.  It narrowly beats out the previous two Tombs games that weekend: a 17-point comeback in the final six minutes of a semifinal victory and a last-second win in the quarterfinals.

Will all of this summer success translate to wins this winter?  Impossible to say.

What I do know is I’m enjoying watching this team right now.

Especially Jabril Trawick, who with a series of jaw-dropping windmill dunks easily dispatches Patrick Ewing Jr. in the finals of the Midnight Madness dunk contest. 

When I return home tonight, Jabril will have re-tweeted at least thirteen mentions of his performance.

One way or another, Jabril and his teammates seem like they’ll make some noise this season.

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It’s noisy in the Tombs tonight, which is typical for Friday at close to Midnight.

And as I sit at a different table, beneath a skylight this time, the news continues to hit.  On my Twitter timeline (and the TV over my right shoulder), @ESPNAndyKatz suggest some Big East expansion candidates are having doubts.

It washes over me without much impact. 

I no longer care to be distracted.  I’m too busy enjoying a post-game drink with friends and trying to decipher some inexplicable song choices by the DJ. 

We’re plotting out basketball roadtrip destinations for this winter, and suddenly I’m at ease with the landscape of college basketball.  This is what I love about college basketball: hanging out with close friends, figuring out mileage to Pittsburgh PA or Syracuse NY, laughing about something Henry Sims did.  On the first day of basketball season, theorizing over how the rest of the season is going to definitely be the best one ever.  And this will definitely be Henry’s breakout year.

We won’t have to put Pittsburgh or Syracuse into GoogleMaps for much longer.  The teams from my first Big East game at MCI Center and first court rush are soon to be history, and it’ll get slightly harder for this old man to explain to the kids that in my day, our hated rivals were named for a fruit

Sure, the rivalries matter, and it’s jarring to face losing your most familiar and hated opponents from the schedule. 

But in the end, is Georgetown basketball really defined by opponents or conference affiliations? 

Not for me.

Georgetown basketball for me has always been defined by its history: yes, the great rivalries and fierce battles, but more so the legends that dominated those rivalries and won those battles.

Legends like the collection of Hoya greats at Midnight Madness tonight, in full: Lonnie Duren, John Duren, Mike Hancock, Gene Smith, Eric Smith, Mark Tillmon, Ronny Thompson, Chip Simms, Reggie Williams, Jerome Williams, Othella Harrington, Anthony Perry, Nat Burton, Omari Faulkner, Amadou Kilkenny-Diaw, Sead Dizdarevic, Jeff Green, Tyler Crawford, Partrick Ewing, Jr., Ryan Dougherty, Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe.  (And…ummmmm…@AllenIverson in absentia)

Midnight Madness is the annual beginning of basketball practice, but in a broader sense, it’s a passing of the torch, from the legends before who built a program’s tradition to the new crop of players who aim to protect it.

What keeps me coming back to Georgetown basketball year after year isn’t Syracuse or Pittsburgh—it’s Jeff Green, and whether Otto Porter is going to be the next Jeff Green…

…and figuring out over a pitcher of Busch Light at Tombs whether it’s feasible to drive to Syracuse or Pittsburgh (or…I guess Orlando, Houston, and Dallas) to watch Otto Porter build his legacy.

What keeps me coming back is the tradition, the atmosphere, the friends I’ve made…the familiarity of it all.

Maybe that familiarity is why I’m still going after my eleventh Midnight Madness. 

There’s always Soulja Boy and GUGS smoke (here’s your preview of next year’s “Hey, I vaguely remember that song!”)…Nate Lubick playing cornhole with some freshmen he ran into in the parking lot…a choreographed dance routine by GU Jawani, Groove Theory, and sometimes the men’s basketball team…the Pep Band drummer failing to get the “We Are Georgetown” cheer right…a WAG slogan…a cold pitcher of beer afterwards at the Tombs…and the optimism of another season.

Will the 2011-12 Hoyas be any good?

Who knows…I’m not sure what to make of them just yet.

John Hawkes (SFS ’04)

Proud Member of Generation Burton

 

 

 

 

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