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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Forget the upcoming BCS polls or the Heisman Trophy hoopla.

It's my favorite time of year - the time when orange orbs are removed from their storage closets, uniforms are dusted off and shoes start squeaking on wood floors.

But while hoops fans across the country will be tucked away in gyms at midnight this Friday for the start of basketball season, the O'Dome will be echoing with emptiness.

UF's two-time national championship program has decided not to host Midnight Madness this year.

Instead, the Gators opted for an afternoon delight - a fan appreciation day on Oct. 21 beginning at 2 p.m.

I know last year's Midnight Madness wasn't exactly the spectacle fans hoped for coming off a championship season, but that's no reason to do away with the event altogether.

Bring it back to its glory days when the players actually scrimmaged each other.

Plus, last year's soiree wasn't all that bad. When else would you see Lee Humphrey shake his moneymaker? Or Corey Brewer dunk over Al Horford?

I know the starting five have moved on, but I don't think the new crop of freshmen would have a problem showcasing "Superman" dance moves or mad ups of their own.

Billy Donovan has been quoted as saying that the late hour made it hard for fans to show up.

Tell that to the 7-year-old kid I interviewed who stayed up past his bedtime to get a glimpse of the Gators. The glow on his face made it seem like he was waiting up for Santa Claus.

My guess is that with a mostly new team, Donovan doesn't want to make like Kentucky's Big Blue Madness, which launches fireballs 30 feet into the air with propane torches during player introductions.

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Shooting off fireworks and rolling out the red carpet would be a bad idea for this team, but Midnight Madness is more than just a flashy show.

It gives the students a chance to get a feel for the members of the team. No one knows a thing about these fresh guys.

Joakim Noah announced his arrival to the squad his freshman year by grooving with Alberta. You could tell the moment he started dancing that this kid was going to be fun.

And what did you get? A bouncy, screaming, ponytail-sporting, chest pounding quote machine.

Still not sold on the event, Billy?

Then take notes from your mentor, Rick Pitino.

When Louisville lost its big name players from the 2005 Final Four team, Pitino put on a regular practice as his version of the following season's kickoff celebration.

According to USA Today, he warned that the event wasn't a show but rather a practice, and it might not be suitable for young children because of language.

He gave the fans tidbits of information during breaks, like how much muscle Terrance Farley put on or how high Taquan Dean could jump.

Now that Donovan has built up UF's program, I'd bet diehard Gators fans would jump at the chance to witness practice.

But c'mon. Fan appreciation day? So fans can get autographs from players who, save for Walter Hodge, haven't even really played yet and watch drills that even I could pull off?

Yup, sounds like madness to me.

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