After an offseason that surely felt like an eternity for Tigers fans, the two Memphis basketball programs kicked things off Thursday night with Memphis Madness.
While there was a lot of attention focused on Penny and his star-studded crop of freshmen, the women’s team also ushered in their highest-ranked class in school history. With a capacity crowd on hand, excitement was at a fever pitch as the show began.
Following an electric introduction of both squads, the skills challenge got the evening started. Comprised of four pairings of one player from each side, each duo had to dribble through an obstacle course, make a chest pass, dribble back for a layup and finish with a three-pointer on the other end. Although it was tightly contested throughout, freshmen D.J. Jeffries and Aerial Wilson were able to come away with the victory in the night’s opening act.
Up next was the three-point contest, which saw shooters from each squad try their hand at knocking down as many treys as possible in a minute. Despite a surprise entry from assistant coach Mike Miller due to Jayden Hardaway’s ankle sprain the day before, freshman guard Lester Quinones prevailed on the men’s side with 18 points in the first round. On the other side, junior forward Alana Davis paced the women with her 15-point showing. In the finals, Davis etched Quinones out 15-14 to take home the three-point championship.
In one of the more anticipated events of the night, a stacked field of competitors took the floor for the dunk competition. In addition to the group of contestants, a panel of judges made up of former Tiger greats, including Chris Douglas-Roberts and Elliott Perry, only added to what was already a great night for Memphis basketball fans.
Ryan Boyce and Precious Achiuwa each threw down some mean slams, but it was Damion Baugh and James Wiseman who advanced to the final round. In what may have been the highlight of the entire evening, the hyper-athletic Baugh soared over the 7’1” Wiseman for a jam that brought the crowd to life inside the FedEx Forum. In an exciting clash that featured four very capable dunkers, Baugh took home the win after an intense back-and-forth with Wiseman.
During the intra-squad scrimmage portion, fans got just a glimpse of what they can expect this season as the newcomers got to show off their skills inside in front of the home crowd for the first time. Jeffries displayed an array of shifty moves around the rim and showed off a nice passing vision while Wiseman appeared to be as good as advertised. Boogie Ellis showcased his dynamic scoring ability in limited time on the floor, and Lester Quinones is already on the verge of becoming a fan favorite after his big-time performance. On the other side, Tyler Harris drained a long ball and quickly reminded fans why he set the conference record for three-pointers a season ago.
Albeit the small sample size and the laid-back nature of the scrimmage, Hardaway’s bunch gave Tiger fans plenty of reasons to be ecstatic about the start of the season. Potentially the most important thing they showed was the willingness to pass up chances to score for better opportunities for their teammates, an unselfish mentality that will play a huge role in determining just how far this team can go. If they can stick together through the highs and lows of a full season, the sky is the limit for these Tigers.