Fans got a feel for the faces, new and old, on the Illinois State men’s and women’s basketball teams Tuesday night. A mix of dunks, three-point shots and scrimmages, followed by an autograph session from both teams, made up the 2013 Hoopfest on Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena. Outlooks heading into the upcoming seasons, which begin in roughly three weeks, were fairly positive from both teams.
“I’ve got a strong feeling about this season – I’m excited. Me, and all of my teammates, we all have the same purpose and that’s to win,” forward John Jones said. “In practice we’ve been trying to go hard every day. Coach [Dan] Muller wants us to run and maximize our potential, and get out there and be the best team on game night. Tonight was just about having fun and entertaining the fans, but of course we’ll be ready when game night comes.”
The fans were entertained with a number of events at Hoopfest last night. A three-point shooting contest, which combined players from the men’s and women’s teams, was just one of those events. A duo of Zach Lofton and Lindsay Smith combined for nine treys to win the competition. Daishon Knight and Alison Seberger were close behind with a combined eight threes, while Nick Zeisloft and Katy Winge rounded out the competition with six three-pointers.
Winge was also vocal of her team’s cohesiveness and progress thus far.
“We’re really excited, we’ve been working really hard in practice. It’s been very different with the new coaching staff, but we’re excited about the new culture and the new teamwork that we’re building,” Winge said. “This is one of the best … teams I’ve ever been a part of. We’re together all the time and we have so much fun together and that definitely shows on the court, too. We hope the fans will start to see that as we get into the games.”
A 10-minute scrimmage from each team followed the three-point competition. In the women’s scrimmage, Alexis Foley led the Red team to a 13-11 win with five points, shooting 2-for-4 and grabbing three rebounds. Stekara Hall shot 2-for-5, with four points and two rebounds, to lead the White team.
“I think that all we can do right now — because we’re so new, we lost all of our scoring, we don’t have a lot of experience that has started or played a lot — so I think what we have to do is look at our team and just go ‘can we be better than yesterday?’” Barb Smith, women’s head coach, said. “Every single day we build on that, and then we’ll see what happens. We’ve got a very tough pre-conference schedule, so hopefully that gets us ready. If we just keep looking at day-to-day … Then I can look at this scrimmage and say we see some of that improvement.”
The men’s team then showed off their skills in a dunk showcase, though unlike past seasons, they did not crown a winner. Head coach Dan Muller put up a dunk as well. Following the dunk competition was the men’s 10-minute scrimmage, ending in a White victory of 32-23. Paris Lee led the White team shooting 3-for-4, including 2-for-3 behind the arc, grabbing eight points on the night. Lee had a total of five rebounds. Zach Lofton added seven for the White team, while Bobby Hunter and Jones each added six points for the Red team.
Coach Muller was glad that his team had some more time to practice before the season began, and he is confident in his team’s ability.
“I feel like our guys are working hard. I’m glad that we’ve got another three and half weeks until our first game, because we need it. We’ve got talent, and we’ve got a lot of guys who can do a lot of things,” Muller said. “Right now we’re still trying to come together as a team and build that team unity.
“I have [seen that team unity], especially with so many new guys. I think they all like each other, and that’s important — it’s not a given,” Muller said. “We want to be a group — we say brotherhood a lot — and have the guys watch out for each other, push each other, encourage each other and hold each other accountable. I think if you can get that, you have a better chance to be successful.”
Now that Hoopfest is in the books, the men’s and women’s teams will both gear up for an exhibition double-header Nov. 3 at Doug Collins Court. The women will face Northwest Missouri State at 1:05 p.m. followed by the men facing Quincy at 4:35 p.m.