Dimmed and flashing cherry and white lights lit the way for the men’s and women’s basketball players and coaches as they entered the Liacouras Center through a pair of brown double doors Thursday night.
Accompanied by personalized music, the Owls made their ways down through throngs of fans to introduce this year’s men’s and women’s basketball teams on Cherry and White night.
It was the first time in two years the teams used the Liacouras Center for the season’s unveiling. Last year’s festivities were held in McGonigle Hall.
“This has been the first one they’ve done in a long time, so I think it’s great in here,” men’s basketball coach Fran Dunphy said. “They did a great job. I thought the kids were energetic and enthusiastic. I thought it was a real good night for us.”
Fans, members of the band and some of the players competed in various basketball drills like three-point contests and half-court challenges at Thursday night’s event.
The most entertaining part of the night was the dance-off contest that paired players, cheerleaders, and members of the band into five two-person groups. A cheerleader and band member won the contest, but freshman men’s basketball guard Ayan Nunez de Carvalho stood out. During his dance routine, Carvalho removed his gray T-shirt, garnering a positive response from the fans.
“He shows he has some guts, or he’s crazy,” senior men’s basketball guard Devin Coleman said. “I don’t know, but either way it was great for the fans and great entertainment.”
The event was also the first fans would get to see their teams after they each made a deep run in postseason tournaments last spring. The men’s team advanced to the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament but lost to the University of Miami, 60-57.
After not making the NCAA tournament last season, the men’s team is unranked in the USA Today’s preseason Top 25 poll Oct. 15.
“We shouldn’t be,” Dunphy said about being left out of the rankings. “We don’t deserve to be ranked … you have to earn that right. If we can be ranked before the end of the season, I would be thrilled.”
The men’s season tips off Nov. 13, against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is currently was tied for No. 1 in the preseason poll. The team’s nonconference schedule also includes a trip to the Puerto Rico Tip-off Tournament Nov. 19-22 and an away game against the No. 17 University of Wisconsin-Madison Dec. 5.
“I hope we’re ready to go right out of the gate because we have an unbelievable nonconference schedule starting with North Carolina,” Dunphy said. “We need to stay healthy, we need to believe in one another and we need the support of these young students here.”
Senior men’s basketball forward Jaylen Bond replaces Will Cummings as the team leader after recently being voted team captain.
“It’s a big responsibility,” Bond said. “I have to be the same person every day and make sure everybody is doing their jobs.”
The women’s basketball team ended last season with a 66-58 overtime loss to West Virginia in the semifinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Last season the team started 3-7 but rebounded to finish 16-16 and earn a postseason berth.
“I felt last year we got off to a slow start because we were really young,” women’s basketball coach Tonya Cardoza said. “We didn’t have a lot of bodies, but I felt like as the season went on, we started to jell and started to understand what we needed to do to be successful. I think because of that and how far we went in the NIT, I think that is how we will start the season.”
The women’s basketball team, also unranked, starts its season against the University of Florida Nov. 13.
The USA Today women’s basketball preseason Top 25 rankings have not been released, but two of the Owls’ nonconference opponents—Florida State University and Rutgers University—finished last season ranked in the postseason poll. The women’s team struggled against ranked opponents last year going 1-7.
“We’re not worried about that,” women’s basketball sophomore guard Alliya Butts said about repeating last season’s struggles. “We’re just trying to get better and have our best season. We’re trying to be strong this year and finish strong.”
Stephen Godwin Jr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @StephenGodwinJr