UWM vs. UW-Parkside: The Journey Begins
Well, basketball season is officially in session with last night’s exhibition game win by UWM over UW-Parkside. I’ve got lots of points about this one, since it’s the first game of the year, and there are some comparisons that obviously need to be made to last year. So let’s just get started:
1) There’s definitely a buzz in the air about UWM this year. Last year when I went to their pre-season game against Lawrence University, there was virtually no one in attendance for the game. Tonight, there were police directing traffic on the streets before the game, and the crowd inside the arena was typical of most of the average games last season. Not an overwhelming crowd by any means, but very impressive for a pre-season game. And a great showing by the student section. Were they letting these kids in for free?
2) Speaking of the Lawrence game from last year, I went to a great pre-game reception for Lawrence supporters last year. It was in a nice room, with fancy hors d’oeuvres and an open bar. In contrast, the Parkside supporters this year appeared to have had a pre-game event, but they just had a portion of the arena corridor roped off. And I’m betting that they weren’t eating shrimp. Looks like it pays to go to a private school. (Though I must admit I was impressed by the guy wearing a Parkside jersey. Who knew you could even buy one of those?)
3) Want to know why I love UWM games? Tonight I got a game ticket for $5, parked in downtown Milwaukee for $5, and purchased a media guide and program for $11. That’s $21, not including pre-game food and beverages at the bar across the street. Undoubtedly, at some point this year I’ll be running late to get to a Marquette game and end up paying $15 just for parking, and then dropping $25 on a ticket. And I won’t be taking home a glossy media guide afterwards.
4) My buddy Curl and I, as I noted, bought the cheapest seats possible. Instead of shuffling to find some seats lower in the arena, we opted just to go to the upper deck and sit in the first row at mid-court. It was sort of like having a half-assed, unenclosed personal luxury box. There were only about 10-15 people in the upper deck on our side of the arena, and the upper-level concourse was completely vacant. When I went to use the restroom before the game started, surely a high traffic time around the arena, I had to set off a motion detector in order to get lights to come on. Now that’s privacy.
5) No more layup-lines-turned-dunk-lines during the pre-game this year. I assume this can be attributed to a higher level of discipline under Rob Jeter.
6) Player intros this year let me down a tad. It’s not that they were bad, but last year’s UWM intro’s had the duel honor of being incredibly cool and hilarious at the same time. The cool part was that Trick Daddy’s "Let’s Go" actually was one of the cooler intro songs that I’ve ever heard, and it worked wonderfully to have guys run onto the floor to the song. The hilarious part was how there was always a highlight montage on the scoreboard jumbotron during intros, and the players were constantly looking up at the scoreboard to see if they made the video. This year after the lights went down, things were pretty standard, though creative use of spotlights was a nice new wrinkle to the auxiliary game experience this year.
7) On the plus side about games at the Mecca, you can buy beer. On the negative side, there is one location in the entire arena where you can buy beer, so the line is long enough that it doesn’t really make sense to do so unless you’re a problem drinker. In the rare event that you absolutely need some alcohol in your system at the UWM game, it probably makes more sense to hit the smoothie booth where they’ll put rum in your drink for a couple extra bucks. I’m probably going to be sticking to R.C. Cola this year, though.
8) Last year about this time after UW-Parkside played Wisconsin, I commented on Parkside center Kevin Boutelle and how he had dropped weight and transformed his body since I saw him play in high school. Well, he’s still a decent division 2 center, but he appears to be bulking up again. And my avid readers who are alums of Sheboygan South will be proud to know that Mr. Boutelle had a vocal group South-grad fans cheering him on, complete with gigantic cardboard signs.
9) Until tonight I had no idea that UWM’s mascot had a name. That name you ask? Victor E. Panther. I’d like to make a joke about this fact, but frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what to do with this information.
10) It’s official, Bruce Pearl is gone and Rob Jeter has arrived. Watching this team play, that couldn’t be more clear. The first sign? The Panthers took a 13-0 lead to start the game. Compared to Pearl’s defensive gamblers who just wanted to get the ball back so they could shoot it again, Jeter’s team actually dug in on the defensive end. And Jeter’s offensive schemes showed lots of guards posting up and high-low exchanges, staples of his mentor Bo Ryan’s winning system.
11) You know, despite some unsavory things that I’ve heard over the years about Bruce Pearl, I already kind of miss the guy. UWM’s going to win plenty of games this year, and they’ve got lots of talent, but I’m highly doubtful that the excitement level will be as high. I think they’re playing a much more sound brand of basketball now, but I realized last night that I never went to UWM games to see perfectly played basketball. I went because there was a team at the arena that played with high energy and did things that most coaches would think were ridiculous. And it was a fun guilty pleasure to see athletic players out-leap, out-run and out-hustle other teams, even if they didn’t out-strategize them. UWM’s style was unique, and filled a void that I couldn’t fill anywhere else. Don’t get me wrong–I’m still psyched about the season, but part of me misses the flashiness of last year’s squad.
12) Panther newcomer Tyrone Young, a junior college transfer, sure isn’t shy about shooting the ball.
13) Much to my delight, Popeye’s Chicken is again sponsoring the Panthers. Much to my dismay, their second half "catch the rubber chicken in the laundry basket" promotion didn’t go so well last night. When running a contest that takes place during a time-out, things need to run with great precision. You can’t have contestants who don’t know where to stand, and if you’re catching rubber chickens in laundry baskets, you should probably have some laundry baskets sitting in a familiar place beside the court. None of that happened last night, and the timeout ended with about 20 seconds left of the 30 second contest. I’m assuming that heads will roll in the UWM promotions department today.
14) I was keeping a particularly close eye on Panther newcomer Kevin Massiah last night. While reading his bio over the summer, I noticed that Massiah had began his basketball career at Western Kentucky. Given this fact, I took a moment to check up on what UWM fans could expect and contacted Cortney Basham of the Bracket Board, the internet’s foremost Western Kentucky expert. Mr. Basham offered up that Massiah was an athletic slasher who seemed like a decent guy, and was full of potential. I saw some of that last night, but Massiah’s minutes were limited. There’s not really any shame in that, though, since the Panthers are currently have seven key seniors in the rotation that played significant roles on last year’s team. Nonetheless, I’m keeping one eye on Massiah this year.
15) Jason McCoy is now listed at 6'9" and 190 pounds. There’s not a lot of guys that size that you can say this about, but I think McCoy bulked up a bit over the summer. Maybe that added weight helped him secure his surprising starting job.
16) My general assessment of the team after last night? UWM’s still going to be very good this year. Whether they can pull of upsets like they did in the tournament last year will remain to be seen, but this is going to be a more consistent team. The Panthers are lucky to have players as talented and skilled as Joah Tucker and Adrian Tigert. Boo Davis is just a notch below Tucker and Tigert, as well. It’s going to be a fun ride, and I’m glad that I’m in on the ground floor.
17) I’m getting this update out a bit later than I had hoped. Why? Well, the delay is courtesy of the good people of CPS Parking, who run the parking structure on 4th Street and Highland Ave. and made sure that I didn’t get home until late in the evening. Upon my attempted exit from the parking structure I became stuck inside, with the 7 other cars there, since the automated exit system wasn’t working. About the last thing I wanted at 10:15 at night was to be stuck in a parking garage. Long story short, I was stuck there until 10:45 or so. Props to whoever designed a parking structure with no mechanism for manually opening the gates in such a situation, or if there was such a mechanism, props to the crack parking-structure staff that made sure that the $35 that would have been lost by letting us out manually was collected before we were allowed to leave. I think I’ll be finding a new go-to parking structure this year.
So wearily, I trudged home last night and finished most of this entry. I’m hoping that last night was an exception, and that I will actually be able to sleep this year. See you tomorrow...