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Midnight Madness was more than an event for the fans. The players and coaches both got a chance to talk about last season, summer training and this coming year.
Fans came early to take pictures with their favorite members of both teams. A good portion of the fans were happy to welcome back Jermaine Salmon, returning for a full season after last season was cut short by NCAA regulations on his eligibility after a long tour of military service in Iraq.
“He’s the one guy that everyone on the team loves,” Coach Richard Schmidt said. “I think he’ll give us a lift.”
Salmon was just happy to be back.
“It feels good. We look a lot better than last year,” he said.
The addition of Salmon will be a large help in helping a team that spoke about the importance of leadership.
“We’ve got a lot of strong leaders all the way through the team,” said forward Glyn Hunter. “Everyone’s improved. You don’t have to be a senior to be a leader.”
A senior who is a leader however, wears No.42. Chris Evans was named a Daktronics second-team All-South Region selection his junior year and led the team in blocks his sophomore year. Evans recognizes that leading a successful team is too big a responsibility for one player to shoulder.
“We’ve got six seniors, six veterans that have been in the system,” Evans said. “We work together. We train together. We’ve familiarized ourselves more with each other.”
The 6’8″ forward knows you don’t have to be the tallest to be a leader. He too is excited about the return of Salmon.
“He’s kind of the sarge. Kind of the main guy,” Evans said. “He’s small but he works hard.”
Working hard has become an important aspect of this team. Although Midnight Madness is the official practice, several players stayed through the summer.
“I stayed here all summer,” said Hunter. “It generates a lot of excitement.”
Coach Schmidt sees the difference.
“Right now, I can see a new attitude.” Schmidt said. “We’ve got two or three inside players, but the key to this team is our guards.”
Schmidt also reflected on leadership, thinking it needs to be better.
“We lacked a lot of it last year, hopefully we’ll get more of it this time,” said Schmidt. “If our point guards can step up, who knows what we can do.”
With six seniors and numerous veterans, the team looks strong.
“We have great leadership this year,” freshman Stanley Calixte said. “We should have a great season and hopefully contend for the championship.”
While the men’s team spoke of leadership, the women also had aspects of their team to be excited about.
The 2007-2008 season should show the women players working closer together as a tighter knit group.
“We have better chemistry,” senior DeShaydia Mackey said.
Mackey led the team in the NCAA south regional game last year with a team-high 19 points in their 64-57 loss to Valdosta State University in the first round. She played all 40 minutes.
This Spartan women team knows they can do better though.
“We feel more comfortable around each other. It should make for a better season.” Junior Hailee Sullivan said. “I think we’ll do really well this year. We have all the starters back and brought in two more good players.”
Sullivan has greatly improved herself. She is expected to be a long range weapon outside the three point line as a guard.
The team is lucky to have all the starters back, including senior Sheena Walton. Walton became one of five All-American finalists for the region last year. She averaged a team-high 13.6 points per game.
Coach Tom Jessee echoed what his players know.
“That’s always the key, is the chemistry that comes from the veterans,” Jessee said. “They know the strengths and the weaknesses of the team, its something you can’t coach.”
The team looks for a third straight SSC championship, as well as improvement in the NCAA south regional game.
“We’ll learn from our mistakes,” Jessee said.
Click here to read all about the events at Midnight Madness!