In their own version of midnight madness the Iowa Basketball team held its annual Black & Gold Blowout this past Friday night. In an evening filled with oohs and ahs, the Hawkeye squad went through its own slam dunk contest and followed that up with a relatively defense-free 20 minute scrimmage.
In short, it was exactly what the 7,140 fans in attendance were looking for.
As the 2013-14 season grows ever closer, Iowa fans got their first real chance to see the team that has been the source of so much renewed optimism towards the Hawkeye basketball program. For two hours they were given an opportunity to appreciate the talents of a group of players that have built a program back to respectability and are now looking to lift it to prominence.
For guys like Devyn Marble, Zach McCabe, and Melsahn Basabe it was a final chance to showcase to an audience their offseason improvements heading into their senior seasons. Others, like Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff gave fans their first opportunity to watch them play in a Hawkeye uniform.
Maybe the most impressive statistic of the night was the 7,000+ fans who showed up at Carver Hawkeye to express their support and excitement for the program. Not so long ago, a regular season GAME would have drawn a lesser attendance and certainly would have lacked the noticeable enthusiasm present on Friday night.
Head Coach Fran McCaffery made it a mission after accepting the job to lead the Hawkeyes to create a product that the team’s once great fan base would appreciate and stand behind. Over the pass three seasons the successfulness of his mission has become quite apparent, maybe never more so than at this year’s version of the Black & Gold Blowout. In the past it was an event that couldn’t be identified by most fans on an Iowa sports calendar, but this season was eagerly anticipated.
Starting off the evening’s festivities were individual player introductions on stage complete with dance moves (some significantly worse than others), video highlights, and a pyrotechnic display. Coach McCaffery’s entrance followed in a gigantic inflatable basketball pushed by Hawkeye stars Aaron White and Devyn Marble. And then as they say, “the games began”.
A number of Hawkeyes took the floor to showcase their dunking skills in a contest that if looked at closely enough could actually be seen as somewhat applicable to the coming season in comparison to recent years. That isn’t to say that fans should plan on seeing between-the-legs and behind-the-back jams during the regular season, but the amount of athleticism exhibited by the players was impressive in comparison to years past. I personally can’t remember any Hawkeye squads in recent memory with two guards 6-1 or shorter that could dunk, much less put in the reverse slams and ally oops that Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons were on Friday night.
However, as impressive as the smaller guards and a few wings were, the player that undoubtedly stole the show was big man Gabriel Olaseni. The vastly improved London native wowed the crowd with a one-handed jam that finished with his arm elbow deep in the rim (a-la Vince Carter in the famous 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest). Olaseni then proceeded to bring down the house with an MJ-esque free throw line slam that undoubtedly would have made him the winner had one been declared.
Following the high-flyers was a 20 minute scrimmage with the predictable sightings of big men attempting to play as guards, every player attempting at least one three pointer, and Fran McCaffery sitting courtside eagerly awaiting for the scrimmage to be over. Like most all coaches, McCaffery understands the need to appease the fans and put on a show, but wants more than anything for the evening to pass injury free for his squad.
If there are any takeaways from the gloried pick-up game they would be that:
1. Coach McCaffery can breathe easy once again. No Hawkeyes were injured or even nicked up over the 20 minute session.
2. Iowa has an awful lot of skilled players on its roster who will contribute this season, at least 11 to be sure.
3. Newcomers Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff appear as skilled as advertised. Each player possesses an effortless stroke from beyond the arc, and underrated athleticism to go along with it.
All in all the event should be considered a huge success for every person with a physical or emotional stake in the Iowa basketball program. As the regular season approaches and anticipation continues to grow, Hawkeye fans everywhere are as ready as ever to flock to Carver Hawkeye Arena and television sets around the country to support their team.