Memphis Madness – the traditional opening showcase for the University of Memphis men’s and women’s basketball teams – more than met the anticipation for the event’s stars and those who came to see them.
Take it from Katrina Merriweather, who took in the “Madness” for the first time as coach of the women’s team.
“It definitely lived up to its billing,” said Merriweather, noting the many fans that came out to support the teams. “…(I)t just reminded me of one of the main reasons why I was so interested in the job to begin with.”
When the doors opened at 6 p.m., the energy already was high from the buzz of activity in the FedExForum plaza. Inside, the world-class Memphis Cheer and Pom teams dazzled the crowd with moves and stunts. The band played the fight songs and others crowd favorites. And the dance cam gave fans chances to get in on the entertainment.
The arena reverberated during the introductions, with players making their way onto stage set up in what typically is the students’ section. Head coach Penny Hardaway’s entry had him drive a Polaris Slingshot from behind stage. He exited the vehicle and walked onto stage amid smoke and fire.
The crowd went wild.
The performing artists showcased some of Memphis’ musical talent, with Moneybagg Yo – one of the hottest rap performers around, as the headliner. Tripstar opened the performances followed by Big Homiie G and Big30. They kept the crowd on its feet as the energy kept flowing.
With the crowd revved and ready for the players, Emani Jefferson, Maya Stovall, Maddie Griggs and Jamirah Shutes kicked things off in the skills challenge that saw Shutes and her partner, Willie Kemp, take the crown in the handles competition.
Tyler Frierson, who plays center for the women’s team, assistant coach Abby Jump and Josh Minott from the men’s team won the shooting competition after Jump sank a 45-foot jumper on her first try.
Minott emerged as the winner of the dunk contest, winning on a dunk he did for the first time earlier in the day.
“Tonight was surreal,” said Minott, the freshman forward from Boca Raton, Florida. “I’m a long way from home, and where I’m from is not really a big basketball community. A night like this is a first for me in terms of the fanbase. I’ve never had a more supporting fanbase. You’re always going to have high school fans, but in terms of the national exposure, it’s great to be here.”
Junior guard Griggs, who is expected to be a major cog for the women’s team, said, “The men’s and women’s team came together more so this year than in the past. I think it was great energy on both ends. The crowd was in it the whole time. We had a great time. It was a lot of fun this year.”
Hardaway was constantly on the move during the night. While the competitions were going on he was shaking hands, kissing babies and speaking to fans, boosters and family members of.
“After so much that has been going on in our country … you have to cherish every moment. I tried to cherish every moment this year,” said Hardaway.
- Hardaway on Josh Minott: “I recruited him via Facetime. I never some him play in person. The first time I saw him was here on campus. You don’t really know what you are going to get. To see what he is now is amazing. His athleticism is off the charts. He is a kid that has gotten the eye of NBA scouts and has a really bright future.”
- The men’s team takes the court at FedExForum in an exhibition against LeMoyne-Owen College on Oct. 24 at 4 p.m.
- The women’s team will play an exhibition against King University in the newly renovated Elma Roane Fieldhouse on Nov. 4, with tipoff set for 7 p.m.