Pitt Panthers, fans kick off season with outdoor Midnight Madness

Temperatures were in the low-40’s, however a large number of fans packed the outdoor court on Bigelow Boulevard to get their look at the Pittsburgh Panthers Men’s and Women’s Basketball Teams.

The event, which came after a fireworks show, started at 10 p.m., and had a large turnout despite the cold weather, and got crowded around 8:45 p.m.

Before the events started, there was a small tribute to honor Beano Cook where some of his greatest moments were shown.

Following this was a shot of a bus bringing the players and coaches to the court.

Head Coach Agnes Berenato introduced her players first and they came out to applause from the fans. The players themselves were fired up and it was the first time fans had the chance to see the team together.

The men went about things differently, as Jamie Dixon pulled out the surprise of the night. Dixon dressed as Jackie Moon, a Will Ferrell character from the basketball movie Semipro. When shooting the video of the introductions, I had to ask Director of Media Relations Greg Hotchkiss if he knew about this. When he said he did, Dixon in Ferrell form decided to announce his players, something Hotchkiss said was Dixon’s idea.

Following the introductions, the women’s team did a three point shootout. In the competition, the favorite, Abby Dowd won by two points over Brianna Kiesel and the fans were rooting on the players. For each shot made by one of the four competitors, the Panther cheerleaders would throw a shirt to someone in the audience.

The men utilized Bill Raftery’s presence as he called the action for ESPN-U and ESPN3. They had him discuss three of Pitt’s greatest plays ever and to the delight of the fans got to discuss the play that perhaps made him famous, the ‘send it in Jerome’ play. Various Zoo members ‘defended’ Panthers players in the skit.

The women then came out and did three dances including the Wobble and Gangnam Style and then sat back and watch a four player dunk contest.

The Oakland Zoo played as the judge and it quickly became clear that the contest was a two horse race between Trey Ziegler and two time defending champion J.J. Moore who both scored 10’s in the first round.

All four competitors missed at least once in the second round. Ziegler scored a nine on his second dunk. Moore’s last dunk was over a graduate assistant who was taking a picture of the dunk. Moore got a perfect score to take the title ending the event with a bang.

Storming the Court

Following the event, I caught up with Pitt Head Coach Agnus Berenato and senior guard Tray Woodall. Here some of their thoughts.

Agnus Berenato:

On the atmosphere of Midnight Madness: “The atmosphere was fabulous, leave it to the University of Pitt to rise up to the occasion and how awesome that ESPN put this on national TV. The students, faculty and administration really stepped up to the plate.”

On the upcoming season: “We’re so excited to get our season going to be honest. Tonight was a great kickoff, and I think it showed the student-athletes the emotion and enthusiasm the Pitt students and administration have and I think it will carry into practice this week and the coming weeks.”

On current condition: “We came back after our scrimmage yesterday and I think they saw that we have a lot of weaknesses. A lot of times after a scrimmage there is a tendency to slack, but today they were right back in the grind, they worked very hard and they did their weights.”

Tray Woodall:

On atmosphere of Midnight Madness: “It was a great atmosphere. The Oakland Zoo did exactly what they’re known to do and filled the event with tons of excitement and I was happy to be a part of it.”

His highlight from the night: “Just interacting with the fans and of course J.J. [Moore] doing his thing with the dunks.”

On Moore’s dunks: “He’s an athlete. I always call him ‘Jumping Jack’ Moore. That’s one of my guys and he did exactly what he’s known to do.”

On Sunday’s Blue-Gold game: “I’m very excited. It’s time to get on the floor and show everybody what we’re capable of.”

Up next: The men are back in action Sunday for their split squad Blue-Gold game. Admission is free for the fans, who also are able to get autographs from the team from 12-1 in the Petersen Events Center lobby and concourse. The women have their first and only exhibition game Saturday Nov. 3 against Lock Haven.

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