AMES — Fred Hoiberg took the court with a smile, jogging and waving to an amped-up crowd of Cyclone fans officially pegged to number 8,175.
Clearly, Saturday’s inaugural Hilton Madness event was a success — and the Mayor reveled in it.
“It was unbelievable,” said ISU’s wildly popular men’s basketball coach, who told fans he expected Hilton to be packed to the rafters for next year’s dose of preseason Madness. “Year one, it’s always going to be probably the lowest attendance and still we had fans in the balcony. … I think it will be bigger and better next year. Maybe we throw a little scrimmage in here to let fans see these guys get up and down a little bit.”
Guys and gals — on the court and in the stands — got up and down plenty Saturday.
Who had the most ups?
Probably 6-9 transfer forward Jameel McKay, who soared for some spectacular dunks, including one over former ISU manager Jake Stoffers, who made a triumphant cameo appearance.
That put McKay in the driver’s seat for the dunk contest title against upstart and former Des Moines Hoover star Kourtlin Jackson.
But Jackson, a walk-on, refused to be outdone.
First, he tried to position high-flying Cyclone Dustin Hogue in front of the basket for his final attempt.
Hoiberg drew the line there.
“That wasn’t happening with Dustin,” he said with a smile.
Walk-on Daniel Stensland stepped in and Jackson finished over him to upset McKay, who will be eligible Dec. 20, per NCAA transfer rules.
“I don’t think it was an upset,” Jackson said.
Hmm. But what did the unofficial emcee of “Hilton Madness think?
Take it away, Georges Niang …
“We can’t let Jameel win everything,” said ISU’s star forward, who ended last season in a walking boot and kicked off Saturday’s festivities by tossing a pair of signed shoes into the crowd.
That, Niang said, was scripted.
Most everything else?
Improv night at Hilton.
“I’m going to be a comedian when my basketball career’s over,” Niang said probably half-jokingly. “This is just my calling right here.”
Yes, it is.
“This is right up Georges’ alley,” Hoiberg confirmed. “I think you’ll see Georges on the camera at some point in his life — hopefully after a long basketball career.”
But seriously. …
“I thought it was a good event,” said Niang, who took part on the 3-point contest that came down to his teammate and roommate Naz Long and sharp-shooting Brynn Williamson of the women’s team. “Thanks to the athletic department for letting us do stuff like this. They really take good care of us around here.”
Williamson took care of the clutch-shooting Long — who needed to hit a buzzer-beating money ball to oust Niang in round one.
Women’s coach Bill Fennelly said Williamson’s performance Saturday came as a bit of a surprise.
“To be honest with you, she hasn’t made a shot since we started practice, so hopefully this changes some things,” Fennelly joked. “I’m like, ‘Who is that?’ I was in the corner and I’m like, ’Who is that making all those shots?’”
Williamson and Long both expressed pride over the fan turnout.
Said Williamson: “We have the best fans in the nation. They’ll be here just to get an autograph signed or just to watch people shoot for 30 minutes. That’s commitment to the program.”
Long said the commitment will again reap thrill-based dividends.
“ it was a little taste of what’s to come,” said Long, who’s key 3-pointers helped ISU reach the Sweet 16 last season. “Playing in Hilton, there’s nothing like it. Playing in this place is truly a dream come true. When you see all the people come out and support you from young to old, and lifetime supporters, it’s just love man. It’s just straight love. It’s just a taste of the season.”
And that’s no laughing matter.
“That’s just why Cyclone fans are the greatest,” Niang said. “Just to see them pour in here just to see us run around and shoot the ball a little bit that just shows what type of fans we we have. They’re dedicated to their teams.”