On a brisk Friday evening, University of Connecticut basketball fans packed Gampel Pavilion to celebrate the season’s kickoff in three weeks. This annual tradition known as “First Night” featured a “selfie session” with fans, a performance from UConn’s spirit team and Drumline, the introduction of Men’s and Women’s basketball teams, and skills competitions. This year, First Night was also held in collaboration with the Student Union Board of Governor’s Fall Concert.
Women’s Basketball Head Coach Geno Auriemma described beforehand the way in which First Night gets players warmed up before the season begins, “I was talking to a kid recently and I said, ‘What’s the biggest challenge for you coming to Connecticut? What are you thinking?’ and she said, “Coach, I don’t know how I’m going to react playing in front of that many people, the most people I’ve ever played in front of was like 200,” and sometimes, there’s that many people at our practice so, you know, being in that environment tonight I think is going to excite them and energize them and give them a sense of euphoria and make them go ‘Oh Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, what did I get myself into? This is way bigger than I thought.’”
Men’s Basketball Head Coach Dan Hurley echoed similar sentiments and the importance of First Night in recruiting future players, “It’s a big recruiting thing. Obviously, you try to make official visits, it’s key that way. But it’s key that even if you don’t have prospects visiting, to run a great event, to have it packed, word spreads you had a great event and great student turnout, for me, I think the biggest thing is that it wakes the team up, there’s games coming. I mean it’s cold outside and there’s games coming.”
First Night began with the opportunity for the first 300 fans to participate in a selfie session with players on both basketball teams. The show itself started with Homecoming team introductions, a DJ, cheer and dance routines, and a Drumline performance.
The night then continued with introductions of both the men’s and women’s players and coaches. Fans had the opportunity to cheer for seniors such as Crystal Dangerfield and Christian Vital and check out freshmen like James Bouknight and Aubrey Griffin for the first time.
In the closing activities of First Night, members of the teams competed with one another in a Three-Point Shootout, won by senior guard Molly Bent and junior forward Tyler Polley. A dunk contest also ensued, with teammates rating each other on a scale of 1-10. Finally, three UConn students were given the chance to make a half-court shot and win $10,000.
The night ended on a high note with a free show by rapper T-Pain, contributing to the excitement and hype surrounding First Night, the Fall Concert, Homecoming, and UConn Athletics as a whole. As Coach Auriemma reflected on the high energy on Friday, he emphasized fans carrying it through the entire season, “This needs to come back,” he yelled to the crowd, “Get your butt in here.”
To view more photos from First Night, view the photo gallery here.