What is a guaranteed way to get college students to pack the War Memorial Gym at the Sobrato Center to commemorate the start of the college basketball season on a Wednesday night?
A 3-point contest and a slam dunk contest are promising incentives, but a $1,000 half-court shot contest is even better.
A slew of festivities were on tap for Tipoff Madness, the USF men’s and women’s basketball programs’ spin on “Midnight Madness,” an event celebrating the upcoming college basketball season in which a team opens its first official practice to the public. Held on Nov. 3, Tipoff Madness featured the aforementioned contests, color guard and spirit squad routines, and a live performance from Lil Bazzy, otherwise known as redshirt senior guard Khalil Shabazz.
“This year, especially coming off of COVID, we really wanted to try to get all the students and the campus energy back to the gym,” said Garrett Furubayashi, the director of men’s basketball operations. “Last year, we didn’t have any fans in here. So, we just wanted to do something to kind of tip off the season and get people excited about coming here.”
Ralph Ferrari, special assistant to the men’s basketball team, said that head coach Todd Golden “came up with the idea” of having Shabazz be the musical guest. “He mentioned it to Khalil, and Khalil was all about it. It’s great for him. It’s great for the students. It’s great for the school. I mean, it feels like we’re coming together as a great community right now,” said Ferrari. This was Shabazz’s first time performing in front of an audience.
Shabazz, who sees rapping as a creative outlet, did not start rapping until the ninth grade, and he finally got the chance to record in a studio during his freshman year of college. “Growing up, I would always just write rhymes and just write little raps and stuff in my little notebook. As I got older, I just found myself really knowing the lyrics to everybody’s songs and stuff,” said Shabazz. He thought that if he knew “everybody else’s lyrics, I might as well just make my own.”
Sporting a pair of free USF sunglasses that were given to the first 200 students, Lil Bazzy entertained the crowd with songs from his recently released extended play (EP) “Working With What I Got,” including “1am in the Trenches” and “Time Away.”
Aside from his performance, Shabazz was equally excited for the half-court shot contest. Ten students tried their luck at taking home a $1,000 check, signed by Golden, but to no avail.
As the player who set a USF single-season record for 3-point goals with a total of 97, it was only fitting that redshirt sophomore Ioanna Krimili won the women’s 3-point contest. Krimili, who was named the West Coast Conference’s (WCC) Newcomer of the Year, is looking forward to building on last season’s appearance in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). “We have even bigger goals. We want to finish first in the conference this year. Why not go to the March Madness [tournament]? Everybody’s really excited,” said Krimili. “We are working every day, really hard. We have one goal, to just win every game and play really good basketball.”
In his first year with the program, junior guard Gabe Stefanini claimed victory in the men’s 3-point contest. Later that night, graduate student guard Jamaree Bouyea was crowned the winner of the dunk contest. Bouyea pulled Emmanuel Nwabueze, a former USF men’s basketball player, out of the stands. The 6’2” guard then jumped over 6’3” Nwabueze and finished off with a dunk so dazzling that Bouyea decided to not use the second chance given to all contestants.
Ferrari is already toying with the idea of making Tipoff Madness an annual event. “We want to get the students to feel like they’re part of the program,” said Ferrari. “We’re ready to take this thing to the next level.”
For Furubayashi, this season will be all about bringing the game day atmosphere back to the War Memorial Gym at the Sobrato Center. “Last year was so hard, just being in a dead gym. There was just nothing in there,” said Furubayashi. “You can only simulate so much crowd noise as opposed to hearing the actual fans go crazy when they see a cool dunk or someone hits a three or something like that. So, it’s definitely very exciting.”