The excitement level was high. For those old enough to remember it may have even reminded them of the excitement and anticipation that surrounded the early Gene Bartow years. It was fun and the crowd, estimated to be just shy of 4,000 fans had a sense of excitement about them. Jerod Haase didn't give the usual coach speak and try and hold down expectations - he stoked the fire. He challenged the fans to believe greatness could once again feel at home on the southside.
"We're going to be a big time team this year," Haase told the crowd. "Our plan is to shock the world." This team might just do that - but they won't be shocked, the Blazers are an experienced, hard working and confident team looking to return to the NCAA tournament.
The crowd was terribly excited listening to Haase thank them for turning out and building expectations for his team - but mostly the night was about fun.
The evening featured youth basketball, an outstanding exhibition by the U.S. Women's Wheelchair Basketball Team. They faced off against a team of UAB made up men and women's basketball players and two others from UAB who get around campus in a wheelchair every day. The women's team raced out to an 18-8 halftime lead - and then reversed the score at halftime. The UAB started to get the hang of the game in the second half and with the extra points held on for a 25-20 win.
The evening included a three point shooting contest, a dance competition between the softball team, men's soccer and both men and women's basketball teams. The women's team was crowned winner of the dance competition - even though each team brought something memorable, not always good, but memorable, to the dance floor.
At the appointed time the men's basketball team was introduced - and then coach Haase joined the team after landing on the football practice field in a helicopter. "Someone mentioned doing it as a joke - and I was like, hey, let's do it," he said. "I wasn't scared until we started to take off and then it was a little scary, but once we got up in the air it was a lot of fun."
The highlight of the night was the slam dunk competition which was won by Preston Purifoy. "I've been in a couple of dunk contest before and been the runner-up but this is the first time I've ever won," he said.
After the event Haase continued to share his confidence in his Blazers. "We have depth, talent and a great nucleus. It doesn't matter how good you can coach if you don't have talent you are going to struggle and this team has talent."