Spartan hoopers start season
In hindsight, it seems obvious the MSU athletic department would avoid the risk of blasting men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo out of a cannon and onto an adjacent net.
But for a few minutes, the department had many in the crowd fooled.
Clad in stuntman gear, Izzo rode a cannon, hashtagged #IzzoCannon, into Breslin Center. Izzo is known for his theatric entrances into Breslin Center during past Midnight Madness events. He joined his wife, Lupe, and kids at the center of the court with a helmet under his arm, Evel Knievel-style.
Moments later, a stuntwoman who many assumed to be Izzo climbed into the cannon. After a five-second countdown, the person was launched into the air and onto a net.
The crowd went wild. Izzo had surpassed last year’s stunt of “flying” onto the court dressed as Iron Man.
Well, it seemed that way.
Izzo grabbed the mic and revealed the trick — it was stuntwoman Jennifer Smith-Schneider who was shot out of the cannon, not Izzo himself.
“I know most of you are disappointed because most of you wanted me to splatter on the floor,” Izzo deadpanned, eliciting laughs from the audience.
Last Friday, fans and students packed Breslin Center for 2013’s Midnight Madness season-opening event. Attendees were treated to autographs, high-fives from the players and scrimmages as the men’s and women’s basketball teams built excitement for their approaching seasons.
After the event was over, agriscience and environmental studies freshman Dani Heisler said the stunt involving Izzo stood out most to her.
“I wouldn’t have wanted him to actually do that, but the fact that it happened was cool.” Heisler said.
Grand Rapids resident Eric Terry, who brought his young son Landon to the event, wasn’t fooled.
“I knew it wasn’t him,” Terry said. “I knew they’d never risk that, but I thought it was cool.”
In preseason, many pundits have ranked the Spartan men’s basketball team amongst the best in the nation. After a Sweet Sixteen exit in the NCAA tournament last season, a Final Four berth is the goal — as it always has been for Izzo’s squad.
Last year’s team was eliminated in the Sweet Sixteen by Duke in a hard-fought contest.
“These guys have worked their tail off the whole summer,” Izzo told the crowd. “It’s been an incredible, incredible summer for them. There’s a lot of high expectations, I understand that. But not any higher than we have.”
The men’s scrimmage was a point of interest for many fans. Junior forward Branden Dawson displayed a leaping ability that recalled his athleticism before tearing his ACL two seasons ago. Freshman forward Alvin Ellis III showed his hops as well, rising over senior Adreian Payne for a hard dunk.
Junior guard Travis Trice had perhaps the most impressive showing at the scrimmage, draining three-point shots and displaying a general knack for making plays at the point guard position.
The woman’s basketball team wore camouflage during introductions to represent a warrior theme.
Merchant said Williams, who has missed the first three years of her college career because of three ACL tears, exemplified the warrior concept most, as she goes in to the 2013-14 season with a legitimate shot at becoming a key contributor.
Merchant praised Williams.
“She is a true warrior and she was not willing to do that,” Merchant told the crowd. “She’s going to give us one more try.”