by Adam Watts
“Are you ready for Dragon Madness!?”
The deep-voiced announcer’s question echos loudly through Nemzek as he riles up the crowd of basketball fans who are, as it turns out, ready.
The MSUM men’s and women’s basketball teams hosted “Dragon Madness” last Monday to generate excitement about their upcoming seasons and familiarize its fan base with the teams.
“It gives our students a chance to get to know the team again,” Dragon men’s basketball coach Chad Walthall said. “It’s still pretty early for people to be thinking about basketball, but our season starts next weekend, so it’s a good way to start everything off.”
The night began with player introductions. One by one the announcer read the names of each player on the team, and one by one the players ran out to mid-court and threw a miniature basketball into the crowd. The production, which featured a smoke machine and laser light show, was reminiscent of the cinema classic “Space Jam.” Instead of Lola Bunny and Michael Jordan, Dragon fans welcomed Heather Strese, Isaac Sevlie and their teammates to the court.
A slam-dunk contest featured members of the men’s team. The contest, which was judged by a three-person panel, including 7-year-old super fan Gabby Tack, gave the players an opportunity to channel their inner Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and “Chocolate Thunder” Darryl Dawkins.
6-foot-4-inch senior guard Evan Holt won the slam-dunk contest for the third consecutive year with a Carter-like windmill dunk. He hit a 360 dunk to qualify for the finals.
The only dunk of the night to receive a perfect score of 30 came in the first round. 6-foot-9-inch junior forward Matt Nelson executed a baseline reverse windmill dunk, reminiscent of Kobe Bryant in the 2004 NBA Playoffs against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It turned out he used his perfect score too early.
In the finals, he appeared to wear himself out, trying several times to hit a between-the-legs dunk. Eventually, energized by a slow clap from his teammates, Nelson put down a “Chocolate Thunder”-esque one-handed tomahawk, but it didn’t outscore Holt’s windmill.
Earlier in the night, senior guard Tyler Vaughan stood at midcourt and asked the fans to return and support the basketball team this season.
“We have a great group of guys coming back — our core and a lot of returners,” he said. “We hope to have a really good season again this year just like last year. We had great support all last season, so we hope to see you again.”
The event also functioned as a reintroduction to the Nemzek Noize fan group. The face-paint wearing, flag-waving super fans had a table set up at the entrance of the Nemzek Fieldhouse where they handed out fliers and encouraged attendees to join them in producing an enjoyable atmosphere at Dragons games this season.
“Nemzek Noize is a group that was formed in 2009, and it had a lot of support originally, and over the last couple of years it has faded away,” Nemzek Noize president Aaron Simmons said. “Last year, it wasn’t even a thing. So we got this thing rebooted, and we’re looking for more support and more people to go to games. Our athletics are doing really well right now, and we want to give them the rightful support they deserve.”