A fun-filled hour spotlighting Northwestern State's basketball teams Thursday night drew a big crowd to Prather Coliseum for the annual Basketball Tipoff showcase event, with players, coaches and fans alike heading home eager for next month's season debuts.
Topped by 2012-13 Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year DeQuan Hicks and Southland Freshman of the Year Jalan West, the Demons have 12 letterwinners back from a 23-9 team that reached the NCAA Tournament last season. The Lady Demons have eight highly-regarded newcomers to go with seven returning letterwinners, including 2012-13 Southland Freshman of the Year Janelle Perez.
"It was very important to get our young men and women out tonight to play in front of the fans, to get our supporters energized and show them what we're about," said Mike McConathy, about to begin his 15th season as the Demons head coach. "It was a great feeling to have this kind of response tonight, and although our scrimmages weren't real smooth play, we were able to give our fans an idea of what to expect this season."
Second-year Lady Demon co-head coach Brooke Stoehr, whose first team beat the top five finishers in the league standings at home in Prather Coliseum last season, was appreciative of the hundreds of students, townspeople and loyal fans from the area who enjoyed the event.
"Just a great turnout tonight. It speaks volumes for the community of Natchitoches, their support of both programs, and their want for us to be successful," said Stoehr. "You're always excited in October at the outset of a new season, but an event like this really pumps up everybody."
After introductions, both teams had brief scrimmages, sandwiched around a game of basketball musical chairs involving members of student organizations, and a 3-point shooting contest involving several members of the men's and women's teams. Each squad competed to send a member to the championship round, where Lady Demon newcomer Emily Spector's hot hand finally cooled as Demon junior Tyler Washington prevailed 7-4 in the shootout.
Wrapping up the evening, the Demons staged a dunk contest with a surprising outcome.
Senior guard Brison White, whose sensational leaping ability helped make him a crowd favorite in his first NSU season last year, was the prohibitive favorite and did not disappoint. True freshman Zeek Woodley lived up to billing with a series of spectacular slams.
But it was junior college transfer Ryan King who won a tight scoring battle from a five-judge panel, thanks to the most attention-grabbing jam of the night. He failed on his first attempt to leap over the heads of two female students standing about 6 feet in front of the basket, but soared over both on his second attempt and hammered home a resounding dunk that made the difference.
"He's a pretty special athlete. Ryan 'Knock 'em down' King - what can you say? The judges gave him the edge over two very outstanding dunkers," chuckled McConathy.
Both teams had practices earlier Thursday and will continue preseason workouts in the upcoming days.