BY SEAN SONNEMANN AND JOSEPH V. CUSMANO
WEB EDITOR AND SENIOR WRITER
As it got closer and closer to 9 p.m. on Thursday night, streams of students decked out in kelly green headed towards Draddy Gymnasium from every direction of Manhattan College’s campus. It could only mean one thing: Manhattan Madness had returned.
An enthusiastic pep rally, Manhattan Madness officially begins the season for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams. While based around the formal introductions of the basketball teams’ roster and coaches, the event also includes performances by the school’s pep band, cheerleaders, dance team and a surprise musical guest.
“It’s the number one event for school spirit,” Director of Student Activities John Bennett said. “Attendance wise, it’s the number one event of the semester, and possibly the year.”
Bennett and his office began preparing for the occasion before the semester even began. Not only does it require the coordination of a multiple college departments including athletics, communication and the performing arts, but also 10 outside vendors.
When the doors finally opened, lines of excited students entered the gym as the pep band played a medley of pop hits. Before finding their seats in the stands, each made sure to pick up a free t-shirt emblazoned with “The Sixth Borough,” the name of the student fan section. The event staff also handed out glow sticks to the crowd, many of which were later thrown onto the court by students as the night progressed.
After the lights were dimmed, the emcee immediately began revving up the already buzzing energy in the gymnasium. “This is not Manhattan ‘Relax.’ This is not Manhattan ‘Take it Easy.’ This is Manhattan Madness,” he said.
Members of the college’s Air Force ROTC chapter served as the color guard for a rendition of the national anthem. An impromptu “U-S-A” chant followed before the women’s team was introduced.
Each player on the roster had their name and hometown individually called out to the crowd. With a human tunnel made up of cheering Jasper dancers and cheerleaders marking out their path, the athletes danced and strutted their way to center court. Every player had a unique entrance song, many choosing titles and lyrics that reflected their personalities or names.
Freshman basketball player Taylor Williams decided to enter to Montell Jordan’s 1995 hit “This Is How We Do It” for her first Manhattan Madness.
“I was a little nervous, but you know, I had to bring it all old school,” she said.
After each member of the women’s team and coaching staff was introduced, head coach John Olenowski addressed the crowd before beginning his sixth season at the helm of the program.
“I thank all of you for coming tonight and supporting the Jaspers. One thing I know for sure, Manhattan College Jaspers fans are second to none,” he said. “Our team is very young, very talented and very hungry to make all of you proud this year.”
When he concluded his brief remarks, the pep band led the crowd in a round of “Let’s Go Jaspers” chants. The emcee made sure to highlight the updated banners hanging in the rafters before continuing on to introduce the men’s team.
The Jaspers return this year after securing the MAAC championship title against rival Iona last season. While they were subsequently eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament, they made a splash on the national stage with a close contest against defending champions Louisville.
Like the women’s team, each player on the roster of the men’s team was introduced to the crowd. While new freshmen like Samson Usilo and transfer Jermaine Lawrence experienced their first Manhattan Madness, this was the fourth and final event for senior RaShawn Stores.
“You know, it’s always hard going out for your last one,” he said, “I will always remember the first and last one. I really enjoyed it.” He still remembers his entrance song from his freshman year, “Beat It Up” by J. Valentine.
Stores walked out into the spotlight this time with his younger brother Keyshawn, for the second year in a row. The two were clear favorites of the crowd. “I’m just speechless right now,” the younger Stores said afterwards.
After the assistant and associate coaches of the program were announced, the crowd immediately began chanting for head coach Steve Masiello to make his appearance.
In what has now seemingly become a tradition for Manhattan Madness, he hyped up the crowd by asking several times, “Jasper Nation, where are you?”
With the team facing greater competition from rival MAAC schools following their success last season, Masiello called for continuing support from the fans. “We need you behind us like never before,” he said.
This was also the first time Masiello spoke to the student body following his highly publicized off-season controversy. When Masiello tried to secure a head coaching job at the University of South Florida, questions arose about the validity of his academic credentials. While the crowd responded to the coach’s message positively on Thursday night, a few jeers could clearly be heard as he spoke.
Sophomore Brett Zingaro was surprised that Masiello did not directly address any of the off-season proceedings.
“It’s not like he was required to give an apology, but I feel like everyone was expecting it, or wanted to hear one,” he said.
Masiello concluded his remarks by bringing out 80s hip-hop legend Rob Base as the night’s surprise musical guest. Base performed his classic “It Takes Two” as the event winded down and the fans exited the gym.
“Great crowd, great crowd,” Base said after his performance. “The crowd was hyped, everybody looked like they had a good time. I had fun.”
Originally, Biz Markie, a hip-hop star from the same era, was set to be the surprise performer. However, the rapper best know for his single “Just A Friend” was not available to make the event due to scheduling conflicts, according to Bennett.
Regardless of the ultimate choice of performer, Student Body President John Tudisco had high praise for the night.
“It was definitely the best Madness in my four years here. John Canfield and his social life commission did an amazing job setting up and running the event. Also, Rob Base killed it.”