Basketball fans pack the Siegel Center for Rams Madness

Friday night’s Midnight Madness looked a little different than it did in 1970 when Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driessel had his men literally running a mile in the dark in an attempt to gain a psychological edge going into the season.

The spirit, however, remains the same.

VCU’s basketball players were running … man. They were heel-toeing, Harlem Shaking and even typewriting, too, building up excitement as the season draws closer.

Under NCAA guidelines, teams were not allowed to begin practice for the season until 12:01 a.m. local time on Saturday. With the first practice scheduled at, oh, 1 a.m. Saturday, the players and fans of the 2004-2005 VCU basketball teams were in full force Friday night.

Long before the 10 p.m. opening, lines stretched around the Siegel Center in both directions on West Broad Street. Hundreds of students and fans were all waiting to get a glimpse of this season’s teams.

There was as much pandemonium at VCU that there was at Duke, North Carolina and in Connecticut, where all three teams and all their fans rallied to get ready Friday as well.

You could feel the electricity in the building as soon as you stepped in, past the dozens of people handing out dozens of T-shirts all over the place. Walking through the next set of doors into the gym, the source of the electricity revealed itself.

The people in the gym buzzed as hype-man Eric Larkin stood at mid-court and led the crowd in a cheer-off. Behind him, the players were scattered all across the court, leading fans through a series of competitions for the dozens of prizes offered by VCU Athletics.

While some shot around on the gym’s half-court setup and others waited off to the side looking for cotton candy, kids and kids at heart lined up for a photo opportunity with Rodney the Ram, who bounced around all night tossing T-Shirts and causing trouble.

The Rowdy Rams had a table set up on the floor with the bright yellow “Sixth Man T-Shirts” everywhere.

Men’s basketball coach Jeff Capel was busy working around all commotion surrounding him.

He manned the mic several times throughout the night, doing play-by-play for the slam-dunk competition and the three-point shoot out.

Jesse Pellot-Rosa, last seen making game-winning free throws, made his way to center-court to call the three-point shootout.

While Kenny Smith wasn’t there to keep count, Pellot-Rosa took the mic and yelled. “Drew’s the winner!”

The Rams take the court for first time on Nov. 5 at the Siegel Center. Both teams will play exhibition games against the men and women of Virginia Union. The men will play their first regular season against American on Nov. 15 as a part of the Preseason NIT. The women’s team, led by Beth Cunningham, will play their first home game of the regular season on Nov. 23 against Sienna.

Earlier this year at the first Rowdy Rams meeting, Capel said he recognizes that the support for the team as well as expectations for this season are growing after taking Wake Forest to the wire in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and he welcomes both.

“We try to get across to our students here just how important they are to our team,” he said. “I think they’re a part of our team. We want them to come and be a part of the game and I think something like this really sends a good message.”

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