The 2011-2012  college basketball season unofficially kicks off on Friday night as teams across the country hold their first official practice. At The Barn, this will take the form of the first annual “Gopher All-Star Friday Night” which follows four annual events called “Tubby’s Tip-off”. Before that it was “Midnight Madness” for twenty or thirty years.

The opening night of practice, by any other name, would still have a dunk contest. So why make life difficult for people actually wanting to attend the event by changing the name for no apparent reason? Does KFC still serve fried chicken? Will the overpriced department store on Nicollet Mall be known as Daytons until the day I die? Was Quicknetsterflix a brilliant idea? Somewhere marketing people are justifying their existence.

Regardless of the name, or if anyone will show up because they are trying to attend an event that no longer exists, Friday night should at the very least be thoroughly intriguing. Several players make their debut. We get to check in on the progress of the returning players. Most importantly, we can cling to whatever hope we have left that this season will be better than the last.

If you haven’t attended one of these events before, you are missing out. Around 7 pm the autograph sessions begins. I’m not big on twenty year olds signing their names on pieces of paper. I am a huge fan of learning that Tubby Smith may need a hearing aid, that Austin Hollins was horribly prepared for a Minnesota winter, and that Trevor Mbakwe, regardless of the past issues, is a pretty nice guy in person. In short, the autographs are a vehicle for awkward conversations. Savor them.

At around 8 pm the players make their entrances with unnecessary smoke machines and some occasional pyrotechnics. College basketball head coaches, ever the trendsetters, have been trying to one up each other with big entrances that belong on bad reality shows about uber-rich tweens, so it is safe to expect Tubby to one up his motorcycle entrance last year. He’ll never out-Izzo the Izzo, though I appreciate the effort.

For those actually interested in basketball, there will be the slam dunk contest, the three-point shooting contest, and a skills competition which, judging by the skills usually involved in basketball, should involve some combination of running, shooting, passing, etc.

While it has the least impact on how the upcoming season will go, the dunk contest will probably grab the headlines and fill twitter timelines with “Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudes” and “Whoooooooooooa epic mans.” Trevor Mbakwe is back a year after dunking over the aforementioned motorcycle. Rodney Williams took last year off while recovering from a concussion but should  be ready to strap on a cape and dunk from the three-point line or so. A host of dark-horse candidates ranging from the fearless Chip Armelin, the aggressive Joe Coleman, and the Latvian Oto Osenieks won’t go quietly into that good night.


I’m picking Rodney, but one of the freshman could surprise.

The skills competition usually involves some sort of basketball obstacle course in which players are required to make a shot, dribble through cones, accurately make a pass, and make another shot. Needless to say, those who aren’t fleet of foot don’t stand a chance, and won’t be participating. Instead, the guards and non-dunkers will have a chance to shine. Look for Andre Hollins and Julian Welch to dual for the imaginary crown, unless even imaginary crowns are the subject of NCAA investigations these days. I’d really like to see Austin Hollins and Rodney Williams participate. If they do, this event will give us our first clue about the production out of the much maligned small forward position.

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The non-scrimmage portion of the evening closes with the three-point competition, and like all of you, I have no idea what to expect. The Gophers were ghastly last season, even with the best shooter in school history. This season, someone needs to step-up. Oto Osenieks seems like the favorite. Judging by past year’s events, don’t be shocked if Ralph Sampson III or even Maurice Walker shoot a few too.

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The first scrimmage season usually creates more questions than answers, but here is what I am eager to find out:

  1. Are Julian Welch and Andre Hollins able to corral their scoring instincts enough to be effective distributers?
  2. Has Rodney Williams developed the necessary fundamentals to take that much needed next step?
  3. Has Ralph Sampson III learned any aggressiveness from Trevor Mbakwe? Has Trevor Mbakwe learned any jump-shooting skills from Ralph Sampson III?
  4. Is Maurice Walker in good enough shape to play? How has Elliott Eliason developed during his red-shirt season?
  5. Will the full-court press make its triumphant return?
College basketball hope springs eternal in October, and Spring starts Friday!