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Spartans reach for the stars at Midnight Madness

October 17, 2010

MSU women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant gives an overview of the upcoming 2010-11 season at Midnight Madness Friday evening at Breslin Center. Merchant dressed in NASCAR racing attire to show her intentions of returning to Indianapolis this season.

Photo by Sam Mikalonis | The State News

Throughout the years, men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo has been the star of Midnight Madness.

With an arrival and costume relating to each year’s theme, he typically is the center of attention at the annual event that kicks off the men’s and women’s basketball seasons.

But when Izzo went out on the floor during Midnight Madness on Friday night to introduce actor Gerard Butler to the crowd, Izzo might have been outshined by the Hollywood actor.

“Wow,” Butler said, as the Spartan faithful gave him an ovation usually reserved for the likes of Izzo and his players.

Butler starred as King Leonidas three years ago in “300” — a movie about 300 Spartans battling thousands of Persians in 480 B.C.

Since the movie’s release, themes from the film have been used throughout MSU sporting events, particularly Spartan football games.

“Ever since I did this movie, I was invited to come over here,” Butler said to the crowd. “So I flew in from New York because it was Midnight Madness, and I’ve heard so much about you guys.

“I wanted to come and lend my support because I am a Spartan.”

Butler’s appearance was just the beginning of a night that has become a major tradition for both basketball programs.

Like years previous, the theme of the night was based on where each program’s respective Final Four is being played this upcoming season.

And with the women’s 2011 Final Four being held in Indianapolis — home of the Indianapolis 500 — players and head coach Suzy Merchant were driven out to the floor from the Breslin tunnel on motorcycles.

Merchant said the men’s and women’s recent success in Indianapolis, including the women’s first ever Final Four in 2005 and men’s national championship in 2000, has her and her players excited to try and go back.

“Indianapolis has been pretty good to the Michigan State Spartans,” said Merchant, who was dressed for the occasion. “If you’re wondering why I’m wearing a race car outfit, it’s because we’re hoping to get back to Indianapolis.”

Not to be outdone by Merchant, Izzo and his family — dressed in full astronaut gear to correspond with the men’s Final Four location in Houston — entered the building in a futuristic space car after the men’s players had been introduced.

Izzo addressed the crowd after his entrance while walking around the 2011 Final Four logo at midcourt and thanked the fans for filling Breslin Center for Midnight Madness.

“We’ve won a lot of games in this building because of the people sitting in these stands,” Izzo said.

“Tonight, when you think about the thousands of people being turned away at the door, that’s an incredible, incredible feat for us.”

Following introductions, the teams participated in intra-squad scrimmages, marking the official start of team practice. Every last seat was filled in Breslin for the second consecutive year.

Interdisciplinary studies in social science freshman Cassie Noelle Miller was one of the thousands of fans able to get in Breslin for the night’s festivities.

She said it was nearly impossible to not get caught up in the atmosphere of Midnight Madness.

“The environment here, everyone is so pumped and so excited,” Miller said. “It just makes you have a good time, whether you’re excited or not.”

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