Showing up an hour and a half prior to tip-off, due to the unexpected lack of traffic en route to Hampton from Williamsburg following a Tribe football game, provided ample time to observe the activity both outside the arena as I waited for the box office to open and inside the Hampton Convocation Center until pre-game warm-ups got under way. Before the doors were open to the public, a group of Boys & Girls Club vans arrived carrying about seventy children from clubs all over the Peninsula. The result of a ticket donation, the children were afforded the opportunity to participate in a pre-game meet and greet with the players before taking their seats to eat popcorn and do whatever marginally interested children do in a large arena whilst a basketball game takes place in the background. This involvement with the local community, as well as other representations of the non-basketball, Hampton University community, was representative of the feel of the entire game.
The old trope about MEAC basketball goes that the championship weekend is seen as much as a reunion as it is an opportunity to crown a champion. Based on this game, admittedly only a single sample, each individual home date is viewed similarly. The arena itself boasted many a banner for MEAC Tournament championships and NCAA Tournament appearances, including one men's banner touting a "Round of 32" appearance. On the lower level concourse, across from what appeared to be the basketball offices, were trophy cases featuring the men's and women's MEAC trophies and basketballs representative of important program wins. The festivities within the arena, however, were both a celebration of the new season as well as a revisitation of the things about which Hampton University seemingly prides itself.
As the players were introduced, and throughout the game, the Pirates of Hampton University were happy to remind you that they are the defending MEAC Champions, encouraged you to attend the upcoming MEAC Championships next March in Winston-Salem, NC, and even had a pre-game ceremonial game ball presentation to the newest member of Hampton University's 1,000 point club. Darrion Pellum, a Preseason First Team All-MEAC returning guard, recorded his 1,000th point during HU's NCAA Tournament game against Duke, and as the crowd trickled in prior to tip-off, was so recognized. Off the court, however, prominent Hampton University traditions and institutions were also given their own due observance.
The basketball version of the Hampton University Force Marching Band took a prominent location behind one of the baskets, entertaining the crowd with rousing renditions of current radio hits and classic jams before the game, during the temporary lighting outage, and throughout various media timeouts. They also provided background music to the vaunted cheerleading and dance teams, allowing performances which would make the average attendee of a Tribe home game blush whilst raptly keeping the players attention; I know I enjoyed it. Performing at a basketball game, however, did not necessarily mean they were limited to performing for the basketball game as the band, cheerleaders, and dancers made sure to utilize the audience provided by the game as a way to show off the songs, moves, and, in the case of the women, figures, on which they had heretofore greatly efforted. Another proud convention of Hampton University, the homecoming court, made their rounds along the concourse as the King in his HU letter-sweater and sash walked arm in arm with numerous sashed HU beauties, then took their seats directly above the player tunnel. These goings on were also interspersed with more common team and media timeout fare such as mentions of alumni, attending fraternities, and upcoming campus events but also featured contests such as guess-the-lyrics and guess-the-fraternity-colours led by a team of exuberant young announcers, including a DJ. Concluding the events after the final buzzer sounded was a performance by The Force of the alma mater which saw the team and staff standing at half court arm in arm, along with alumni and students showing their respect, as others filed out of the building celebrating a victory or wondering what went wrong.
As for the Tribe, figuring out what went wrong did not take much thought. Despite missing six weeks of practice prior to the start of the season, returning senior and first team preseason All-CAA player Quinn McDowell led the Tribe in scoring and rebounding for the second time in two games this season, but was unable to overcome preseason injuries sustained by William & Mary big men Tim (#Beasthoven) Rusthoven, Kyle Gaillard, and JohnMark Ludwick which will leave them sidelined for the foreseeable future. Despite an impressive supporting effort from highly touted freshman Marcus Thornton, the lack of inside game led to a lopsided rebounding margin which, when compounded upon by a cold shooting night for the Tribe, led to too many one-and-done possessions on the offensive end and enough second chance points on defense to dig a whole too deep to overcome for the Tribe. The result, a 58-73 Tribe defeat at the hands of the Pirates, looks to be indicative of their future until the core big men regain their health or Fred Heldring and Tom Schalk create a more demanding below-the-hoop presence. Hampton, predicted to finish second in the MEAC under the return the aforementioned Pellum, showed no signs of rust from the offseason as they came out draining NBA length superhoops and easily finding space underneath for easy points down low in what was a promising start to a season with high expectations.
At Hampton University, one of five teams from Virginia to make the NCAA Tournament last March, a winning program is certainly much more enjoyable to watch than a losing one, but as the fan of one of five teams to have never made it to the Big Dance despite being part of Division I NCAA Basketball since the classification was created, I can attest that the games keep coming even when the wins do not. Although one game is not indicative of an entire team's ethos, nor is one's membership in a certain conference enough to shoehorn one into a stereotype, the game day experience at Hampton University seems twofold; first, to name the winner of the day's contest, but second, to create a place where friends, students, alumni, and fans alike can gather to celebrate what they love about their University - because you never know when you might need something to celebrate other than wins.
at HAMPTON 73, WILLIAM & MARY 58 11/12/2011
WILLIAM & MARY 0-2 (0-0) -- K. Madison 4-7 4-5 13; Q. McDowell 4-11 8-10 18; J. Boatner 3-6 2-2 11; B. Britt 0-8 2-6 2; F. Heldring 3-5 3-3 10; M. Thornton 6-12 1-2 13; K. Brown 1-2 0-0 2; T. Schalk 0-0 0-0 0; M. Rum 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 18-45 16-23 58. HAMPTON 1-0 (0-0) -- D. Pellum 8-21 2-4 20; C. Tolson 3-11 0-0 8; M. Tuitt 3-6 2-4 10; O. O'Bryant 3-4 0-0 6; J. Williams 2-3 2-4 8; D. Bruce 6-12 3-5 15; D. Agbelese 0-3 0-0 0; K. Reed 1-2 0-2 2; W. Dunning 1-2 2-2 4. Totals 27-64 11-21 73.
Three-point goals: CWM 6-18 (K. Brown 0-1; Q. McDowell 2-5; J. Boatner 3-5; B. Britt 0-3; F. Heldring 1-1; M. Thornton 0-3), HAMP 8-27 (C. Tolson 2-9; D. Pellum 2-11; J. Williams 2-3; M. Tuitt 2-4); Rebounds: CWM 24 (Q. McDowell 6), HAMP 41 (D. Bruce 12); Assists: CWM 6 (M. Thornton 3), HAMP 15 (D. Pellum 3); Total Fouls -- CWM 20, HAMP 21; Fouled Out: CWM-Q. McDowell; HAMP-None.