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Late-night rally wows fans

Spartans stay up past bedtime to kick off campaign

October 17, 2005
Senior forward Liz Shimek waves to the crowd as she makes her way to the court during Midnight Madness on friday night. Players from the women's and men's basketball teams walked through the crowd as they were announced. —

Sirens filled the air as flashing police motorcycles led the way for MSU women's basketball head coach Joanne P. McCallie as she rode into Breslin Center on Saturday at Midnight Madness, the official kick-off event for the men's and women's basketball teams.

McCallie entered the arena in a giant-sized blue "Peacekeeper," an armored vehicle decorated in Michigan State Police decals.

Fresh off an NCAA national championship appearance, the women led the way during the event. But men's coach Tom Izzo earned the loudest applause.

Surrounded by his own mini-entourage of Michigan National Guard members dressed in tan and green battle dress uniforms, Izzo emerged from the bowels of Breslin in a 13-ton U.S. Army Armored Personnel Carrier.

After returning from Kuwait, where Izzo coached the military team Camp Arifjan to an Operation Hardwood Championship, Izzo wore his desert combat uniform as he welcomed fans.

"I told my (MSU) team that if somehow we can be as disciplined, as focused and as good as our military, we will be a potential national championship team," Izzo told the crowd.

As rotating spotlights shined over a near-capacity crowd for the first basketball practice, "A Spartan Salute" theme became an all-American celebration.

An American flag was spread across the entire court for the national anthem before fireworks exploded and streamers fell from the rafters.

And instead of players dressing up in costumes like in years past, the athletes came out of the crowd, sometimes dancing to blaring rap tunes. Each paired up with local police officers, firefighters, nurses and military members.

"It's nice to come out here and see all this support," said staff Sgt. Devin Hahn of the Michigan National Guard.

Once the introductions ended and the lights came back on, the men's team entered into an impromptu slam dunk contest before its scrimmage.

Junior guard Shannon Brown and senior center Paul Davis threw down tomahawk jams and senior guard Maurice Ager entered into a spinning two-hand dunk.

But freshman forward Marquise Gray stole the show with a Julius Erving-style dunk attempt, leaping from two feet in front of the free-throw line and throwing down the ball.

And it was Gray who led the MSU White team to an early 17-9 lead with three dunks, all with crisp passes from freshman guard Travis Walton.

But the gap didn't last as the starting Green team — with Ager, Brown, Davis, sophomore guard Drew Neitzel and junior forward Delco Rowley — slowly chipped away at the lead.

With 14 points from Ager, the Green team took control, winning 27-17. Davis added six points and Neitzel hit a 3-pointer late to put the game out of reach.

The women's team scrimmage was led by senior guard Lindsay Bowen, who paced the White team with 11 points.

Inside a packed arena, the women's team took the opportunity to raise its three championships banners earned last season — a Big Ten championship, a Big Ten Tournament championship and a Final Four appearance.

With memories still lingering from the 33-4 season, senior forward Liz Shimek said watching the banners raised puts an end to last season and adds motivation for this year.

"To see what we did put into words where you can see something visual is incredible," Shimek said.

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