First Night: Fudd, Johnson highlight successful season kickoff

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10/14/22 First Night by Erin Knapp Uconn’s Mens and womens basketball teams, student fans, and season ticket holders all gather in Gampel Pavilion on Friday, October 14, for First Night. The annual event introduces members of both the men and women basketball teams are oficially announced, followed by a free throw shoot-off and a dunk contest.

In front of a full crowd of students, season ticket holders and media members, the UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams put on a show for their fans Friday at First Night, the official kickoff to the 2022-2023 season. 

While last year’s First Night had no musical act, there has been precedent of artists coming to Gampel Pavilion to help kick off the basketball season, with T-Pain performing in Storrs in the Fall of 2019. While extra entertainment can be fun for fans, men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley seems to take the lack of music as a positive. 

“We’ve got such an incredible fanbase here,” said Hurley. “To get the type of crowd we’re going to get here with students and season ticket holders without having to use a musical act to draw fans speaks to how big sports are at UConn, how big basketball is at UConn.” 

Last year’s First Night caught quite a bit of negativity due to a hoop malfunction. The Gampel Pavilion court crew had a tough time securing the hoop to the court after player introductions. There was a change of plans mid-event, leading to an impromptu dunk contest for the men’s team and a very short 3-on-3 basketball game for the women’s team. 

“We wanted to generally do a better job than last year’s,” Hurley said pre-First Night with a chuckle. “I haven’t been over (to Gampel) to see what the basket situation is yet, so we’ll see. We have high hopes.” 

It was safe to say that festivities went much better than last year’s. With a block party complete with a mechanical bull, Dunkin’ giveaways and giant pong setups, fans were able to start their First Night strong. By the time entertainment started at 6:45, the crowd at Gampel was loud and ready to cheer on their favorite Huskies. There were appearances by groups like the UConn Cheer Team, UConn Dance Team and the UConn Drumline before the main event started. Women’s basketball legend Renee Montgomery was in the house, emceeing the pregame while plugging the University’s Women’s Weekend as well. 

10/14/22 First Night by Erin Knapp Uconn’s Mens and womens basketball teams, student fans, and season ticket holders all gather in Gampel Pavilion on Friday, October 14, for First Night. The annual event introduces members of both the men and women basketball teams are oficially announced, followed by a free throw shoot-off and a dunk contest.

Intros 

Like years previous, each coach and player was announced, all getting their moment in front of the fans. Players got to pick their walk-up songs, do their favorite dances, and give plenty of high-fives to the 300 students that received floor access.  

There were plenty of notable entrances and applause. Junior guard Andrew Hurley got plenty of love from the Storrs crowd, with cheers almost louder than his dad got a few minutes prior. Caroline Ducharme had a clever walk-out to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” while Big Sean’s “IDFWY” was the perfect complement to Nika Muhl’s aggressive playstyle on the court. There was a large ovation for hometown freshman Donovan Clingan, hailing from nearby Bristol, CT. No ovation was louder, however, than former National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers, coming out to Future and Gunna’s “pushin P.” 

Before First Night, team captains Bueckers and Andre Jackson drafted squads from both programs, with Bueckers taking the blue team and Jackson taking the white team. Gampel was split down the middle, with fans receiving blue or white pom-poms depending on their seats. With hype man Conor Geary’s classic “Blue/White” chant, the white side earned themselves five points towards the ultimate prize: t-shirts thrown their way. 

Three-point contest 

Not wanting to risk another hoop malfunction, the teams decided to have two events on the same side of the court. The duo of Ducharme and Jordan Hawkins was up first in the three-point contest for the Blue Team, putting up 17 total points out of 30. The Blue Team duo of Naheim Alleyne and Aubrey Griffin quite literally one-upped them, putting up 18. Azzi Fudd dazzled alongside Alex Karaban, posting 18 for the White Team, while Lou Lopez Senechal and Joey Calcaterra hit the very last shot to score 17 total, tying things up at 35 headed into the finals. 

As intense as the first round was, the finals was a blowout. Alleyne and Griffin combined for a night-low of 16 total, while Fudd and Karaban combined for 21 total points, thanks to Fudd nailing her last six straight deep balls. This put the  White Team out to an early 10-point lead. The crowd on Friday loved every minute of the action, cheering for every ball that went in throughout the whole contest. 

10/14/22 First Night by Erin Knapp Uconn’s Mens and womens basketball teams, student fans, and season ticket holders all gather in Gampel Pavilion on Friday, October 14, for First Night. The annual event introduces members of both the men and women basketball teams are oficially announced, followed by a free throw shoot-off and a dunk contest.

Dunk contest 

For the dunk contest judges, UConn Athletics brought out the big guns, having legends Khalid El-Amin, Stefanie Dolson, Emeka Okafor and Montgomery back on campus to see some high-flying skills. Hawkins threw down a nice one-handed windmill dunk in the first round, while Richie Springs threw a reverse cradle dunk that got the Gampel crowd rocking. Alleyne struggled to find the basket with his outing, but Samson Johnson stole the round with a catch off the side of the backboard from fellow teammate Tristen Newton, flushing it for a perfect 40. 

In the finals, Hawkins provided a similar dunk to Springs in the first round, but impressive nonetheless. Judges knocked him down a few points due to the repeat, leading the way for Johnson to take it home with another perfect 40, this time coming from a lob dunk over Jonathan the Husky. 

Post exhibition games, the women’s team will kick off their season on Thursday, Nov. 10, when they take on Northeastern at Gampel Pavilion. The men’s team will start their year just three days prior, facing new Division I school Stonehill at the XL Center in Hartford on Nov. 7. 

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