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ASU men's and women's basketball ignite 2016-17 season at Mill Madness

The Sun Devils brought plenty of fanfare for the first edition of the event.

Sophomore guard Armani Hawkins, left, is greeted by mascot Sparky, center, as she enters the court during player introductions before the start of Mill Madness on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016.

Sophomore guard Armani Hawkins, left, is greeted by mascot Sparky, center, as she enters the court during player introductions before the start of Mill Madness on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016.


It's 8 p.m. on Mill Avenue. The bass is bumping and the bright lights are on — but this isn't your typical Friday night on Tempe's most iconic street.

Tonight, Mill belongs to ASU men's and women's basketball in the first edition of "Mill Madness".

In partnership with the ASU Programming and Activities Board, Sun Devil Athletics built a temporary basketball court in the shadow of the Ira A. Fulton School of Law and invited fans to come join in the festivities on Friday — including a dunk contest, three-point shootout and more.

Associate athletic director Bill Kennedy said the athletic department has wanted to host an event like this for almost a decade.

"We came up with the idea of putting a court on Mill," Kennedy said. "So we talked to folks on campus, went to PAB since they're such tremendous student partners with us, went to the city, and they were on board.

"I woke up (Friday) morning so excited that it was actually going to happen."

As the morning turned to afternoon, the hardwood court finished construction and was almost immediately broken in by the first event of the day: a charity basketball tournament that included various ASU fraternities. Playing in a series of 15 minute games since 4 p.m., it was Kappa Sigma that came out on top.

When the squeaking of sneakers stopped, police sirens could be heard (and seen) fast-approaching. In what had the feel of a presidential entrance, the men's and women's basketball teams arrived at the court with police escorts.

Men's basketball head coach Bobby Hurley said the police escort was "terrific" and complimented the atmosphere of the event.

"It's outstanding," Hurley said. "What a commitment our administration made to this ... What a great way to incorporate all the great things we have here on campus."

Hurley's players, along with those of women's basketball head coach Charli Turner Thorne, took to the court for the first round of competition. The "Sun Devil shootout" pitted teams comprised of players from both the men's and women's squads against each other to see who could make a layup, free throw and three-pointer in the least amount of time.

Turner Thorne, before talking about the upcoming season, quipped that fans should keep in mind the change in depth perception when players are shooting on an outdoor court. She said her team will "really be able to score the basketball" in 2016-17.

"This might very well be the deepest, fastest and biggest team we've ever had," Turner-Thorne said.

After the Sun Devil shootout came the three-point competition, where men's and women's players paired up to try and make the most combined shots from beyond the arc in 90 seconds. The duo of junior Courtney Ekmark from the women's team and junior Shannon Evans from the men's team made 31 shots combined, good enough to get the win.

And then it was time for the main event: the dunk contest.

A series of impressive dunks from freshman Sam Cunliffe, junior Maurice O'Field and seniors Torian Graham and Obinna Oleka capped off an exciting night on the corner of 7th and Mill.

During the windmills, acrobatic twists and attempted (but often failed) lobs, players from both teams got just as hyped as the fans when dunks were successful — filming with their phones and taking selfies the whole way.

A major highlight of the night came from Graham on the dunk that sealed his victory in the competition.

"It's just a blessing to be able to come out here and perform in front of the fans," Graham said. "It was just a dunk I did a long time ago, and it was enough to get me the victory."

After posing for photos and shooting around for a short time, the teams left the court and the night concluded with the sounds of passing cars and nightlife recapturing the heart of downtown Tempe.


Reach the sports editor at rclarke6@asu.edu or follow @RyanTClarke on Twitter.

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