Ron Hunter grew nervous watching the ball roll into the center of the net.
Hunter, the irrepressible men’s basketball coach at Tulane, had just offered two fans in the stands $1,000 out of his own pocket if they could hit a half-court shot in the school’s first-ever Hoops Hullabaloo. Thursday night at the Devlin Fieldhouse.
The No. 1 contender had excellent form, following his shot with excitement as he went perfectly straight and… bounced off the inside of the front of the rim, flying off the basket.
“I was definitely (worried about the shot),” Hunter said after the 45-minute introductory rally for the men’s and women’s basketball teams. “My wife was like, ‘What are you doing?'”
Interest in basketball is higher in Tulane today than at any time in this century. After never being picked higher than second-to-last in the previous eight years, the Green Wave men were favored by American Athletic Conference coaches earlier this week to win the conference.
The women were selected fifth. Lisa Stockton, who is 561-310 entering her 29th year with the wave, is 16 wins away from passing former Louisiana Tech legend Leon Barmore on the all-time Division I winning list.
Stockton arrived Thursday dressed as pop singer Pink, dressed in all black. Hunter was dressed as Bruno Mars in a black shirt, baggy gold glitter pants, and a gold necklace. Voice of the Green Wave Corey Gloor was the emcee for the event, which featured a 3-point shooting competition and a dunk contest.
“We used to do that at Georgia State,” Hunter said. “I wanted people to get excited about basketball again at Tulane.”
The 3-point shooting event had four teams consisting of a fan, a male player, and a female player, each taking five shots. The line of Jadan Coleman and rookie Jaylee Womack won easily, with Coleman and Womack each draining 7 of 10 shots in two rounds. Jaylen Forbes and Marta Galic each managed just 4 out of 10 for the runners-up team.
“We’re going to have a little chat about that there,” Hunter quipped of Forbes’ performance. “He had a bad day of shooting in practice today too.”
Junior Oton Jankovic, a 6-foot-10 forward, won the dunk contest, earning 10 points on his second attempt from a four-person judging panel that included athletic director Troy Dannen and Wave mascot Riptide. Jankovic donned the Croatian flag and ran from the half court for a dive power jam.
Kevin Cross, who was leading after his first dunk, fell behind Jankovic and guarded Sion James with a relatively docile second effort.
During an interlude, soccer players Nick Anderson and Tyrek Presley took to the floor for a few impromptu dances, among other things.
“It was awesome for our kids,” Hunter said. “We want excitement to build for our season. I loved bringing the students here and the football players. Tulane athletics is now on a different path with what our football team is doing.
The Tulane men play an exhibition against Spring Hill College on November 2 and open against Maryland-Baltimore County on November 7 at 7:30 p.m. in an extended doubleheader that begins when the women face Grambling at 4. The women also have exhibition against Loyola on November 1.