There wasn’t too much to cheer about this offseason for the UB basketball programs – even after historic seasons for both the men and women.
Junior forward David Kadiri gave fans a reason to.
The 2015-16 men's and women’s basketball teams debuted at the annual Bulls Madness pep rally at Alumni Arena Friday night. After a slew of departures for both programs, the teams showed off their new squads during NBA All Star Weekend-like events like a 3-point contest and a slam-dunk contest.
And it was Kadiri, a junior college transfer, who gave fans a reason for some optimism.
In the final round of the slam-dunk contest, Kadiri caught a lob pass from junior wing Blake Hamilton and then jumped over Hamilton, who was sitting in a chair, and slammed it in. It was the only perfect score the entire night and gave Kadiri a slam-dunk championship in his Bulls debut.
“It was kind of impromptu, I just wanted to put on a show for the fans,” Kadiri said. “I was running out of ideas at first, then I was like, ‘I’ll jump over someone in a chair.’”
Kadiri is one of many new faces that made an impression on the Bulls’ crowd on Friday.
Junior wing Willie Conner, a transfer from Odessa Community College, was Kadiri’s opponent in the final round of the slam-dunk contest. Conner teamed up with sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden, and after Bearden threw the ball off the side of the backboard, Conner picked up the rebound and slammed it in.
Although Conner came up short, he never intended to even be in the contest. He feared he would run out of ideas for innovative dunks and wanted to back out.
But there was no doubt from the rest of the team he would make it to the finals.
“He’s got the Russell Westbrook explosiveness getting to the rim,” said new men’s head coach Nate Oats. “He acted like he was surprised he made it to the finals, we all knew he could jump like that.”
While the men introduced explosive playmakers, the women introduced an outside threat – an area the team desperately needed to improve on after shooting just 26.1 percent from beyond the arc last season.
Freshman guard Gabi Bade outshot sophomore guard Joanna Smith in the first round of the 3-point contest to advance to the finals. Bade lost to men’s senior guard Jarryn Skeete for the title, but she put up an admirable eight buckets in one minute in the final round.
Bade stayed patient as Skeete and freshman wing Nikola Rakicevic went into a sudden death shootout to advance to the finals. She didn’t seem fazed by her opponent, but the crowd took her for a surprise.
“It was really overwhelming because I’ve never been in a full crowd like this before,” Bade said. “But tonight, we really had fun and everybody was energetic.”
Thanks to the help of senior guard Karin Moss.
When Moss wasn’t competing, she would regularly be hyping the crowd up, taking selfies with fans and beginning chants.
She may have learned a thing or two from women’s head coach Felisha Legette-Jack, who’s known to be loud and passionate during games and even practices.
“You got to bring the energy,” Moss said. “It was dead out there for a minute. I had to hype them up. I had to bring that energy. That’s what my role is on the team. Defensively, offensively, I try to be the spark.”
Moss, a senior, was named captain for the upcoming season due to her on-the-court talent and her off-the-court charisma.
Moss said she’s excited about her new position because she wants to be that exciting player and to lead the players to conclude some unfinished business.
The women lost to Ohio in the semi-finals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament last year, which Moss called a “dagger in [her] heart.” The team went on to make its first-ever WNIT appearance, but then lost its top-four scorers this offseason due to graduation, injury and transfer.
The men ended its historic season with a 68-62 loss to West Virginia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year. The Bulls went through many changes, including the departure of head coach Bobby Hurley and point guard Shannon Evans to Arizona State, Will Regan and Xavier Ford to graduation and the expulsion of MAC Player of the Year Justin Moss.
But Skeete said he isn’t concerned. If anything, Bulls Madness helped solidify his case that this team will surprise a lot of naysayers.
“We’re going to shock a lot of people,” Skeete said. “I think a lot of people have written us off because obviously we lost some pieces from last year. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
The men kickoff their season on Nov. 13 against Pitt.-Bradford while the women begin on Nov. 14 against LIU Brooklyn. Both games will be played at Alumni Arena.
Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @jordanmgrossman.