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Cincinnati Midnight Madness

October 21, 2003 Columns No Comments

Bearcat Madness

by Zach Van Hart

After a year hiatus, Midnight Madness returned to Cincinnati Friday. There were autograph signings, prizes thrown into the crowd, performances by the cheerleaders and an introduction to the dance team.

But what the fans came to see was the men’s team. In fact, quite a few fans really came to see just the slam dunk contest.

The Bearcats may not be the best team in college basketball, but they might be the best dunking team in college basketball.

Five players entered the contest. Mike Pilgrim, a freshman and the lone Cincinnati native was first.

Second was sophomore Eric Hicks. While he rarely displayed his leaping ability during his freshman campaign, he earned the nickname “Helicopter” during his high school days.

Bob Huggins poked fun at Hicks during introduction, announcing the nickname he gave Hicks all last season – “Black Hawk Down.”

Third to go was Armein Kirkland, another sophomore. At 6-foot-8, he appeared to be the dark horse to win the crown.

Fourth was Jason Maxiell. For Maxiell to win, he probably needed to rip down the backboard. So basically he had a chance to win.

And last, the famed James White. The sophomore transfer, widely known throughout the country as college’s best dunker, was out to prove all the hype was true.

Each contestant got three dunks, the top two advanced to the finals. There the two finalists had two dunks to claim the title.

Pilgrim started the show on the right foot, throwing down a reverse after catching the ball of the backboard.

Hicks then started his sick dunk parade. He brought a fan out from the crowd, placed him five feet in front of the hoop, then proceeded to jump over him and throw down. The three judges all handed out 10’s.

Kirkland missed his first dunk and Maxiell impressed with a 360-jam. Then the White show began.

Donning two headbands, one red and one white, White took off from the middle of the lane, went between his legs and flushed it home. As the crowd went nuts, White threw the white headband into the crowd. Consider it souvenir No. 1.

Pilgrim was not backing down though. For his second dunk, he started behind the backboard. He then threw it off the back of the backboard, caught it while coming forward and somehow traveled far enough to make the dunk. Never seen that one before.

Hicks and Kirkland would miss their next attempt and Maxiell would show off his power one more time. Then the White show continued.

Dancing for the crowd, he slowly worked his way to the opposite end of the court. With Tony Bobbitt getting the crowd fired up, White took off from the free throw line and dunked with ease. Another round of 30.

Pilgrim impressed again with a windmill off the glass, but Hicks would one-up Pilgrim and himself with his third dunk.

Instead of making the logically jump to two, Hicks brought out three students to jump over before dunking. Sure enough, he cleared all three and the place went bizerk.

Kirkland missed again; Maxiell would also miss and out came White.

White backed up to the other end again, took off from about 13 feet, double pumped and slammed it home. Like it was nothing.

So Hicks and White advanced to the finals. For his first dunk, Hicks brought out four students, cleared them all and worked in a double pump. Not a bad dunk, even by James White standards.

White only managed a windmill from the baseline, easily his weakest dunk of the night.

When Hicks scored another 30 with his last dunk, he had the title all wrapped up. So White tried the sickest dunk ever. He lost the handle, but it was so crazy to even see it attempted it must be shared.

He took off from the free throw line and tried to go between the legs. Inside sources and intuition tells me he has made that before. If White had converted Friday, the roof would have exploded.

The rest of the evening failed to compare to the dunk contest, but that did not matter. Midnight Madness is for the fans. It’s to get them fired up for a new season of college basketball, for another shot at the national championship.

That happened Friday night in Cincinnati. The fans, myself included, had a great time. With a slam dunk competition that could rival the NBA’s version, it’s hard not to have a fun night. Make that morning.


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