No dunk contest this year.
No Snoop Dogg nor Kid Cudi.
Once 6:30 p.m. rolled around Friday evening, it was time to get down to business for the Northwestern men's basketball team.
Though relegated to training at SPAC due the volleyball match at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the venue was inconsequential. The rims were still 10 feet high and the free throw line was still 15 feet from the hoop. Basketball was back.
Though the team has technically been able to practice together with the coaching staff for the past month, the first official day of the college basketball season has a different feel to it. Instead of only being able to work together on the court for two hours a week, teams can now get down to business for approximately three hours a day.
The start of a new season is similar to a television spinoff. Familiar characters who you've grown to know and enjoy are back, while other new cast members have joined the fold. Players have graduated and newcomers enter the fray looking to contribute. The returners have honed their craft in the offseason as they attempt to expand their contributions from the campaign prior. Every team has a clean slate. Everyone's record is 0-0.
Earlier in the day at the annual Chicago College Basketball Luncheon, Howard Moore, the head coach at UIC, compared the first day of practice to opening a Christmas present. Coaches get to unwrap this "gift" where they're finally able to get down to work with their players.
The Wildcats start their season anew on the heels of three straight postseason appearances and back-to-back school-record 20-win seasons. However, the previously unattainable goal is still out there. Everyone knows it, and the question persists for all those in and around the program: "Is this the year?" It's the elephant in the room.
"We're all really focused," senior Davide Curletti said. "We all want to get that NCAA tournament bid. Everybody's talking about it. (For the seniors) this is our last year. Our freshman year, we did great. Our sophomore year we did better and our junior year we did even better. Now we're just trying to finish this off.
"Right now it's time for guys to get used to each other. Now that we're starting practice tonight, it's going to be time where we're really going to have to sit down and start honing in on all aspects of our game."
Here's to a season of good health and a dream realized. Only 24 days until the exhibition opener.
Notes: Special guests at Friday's practice included Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and assistant coach Ed Pinckney. Northwestern assistant Fred Hill served alongside Pinckney as an assistant coach at Villanova from 2003-05 ... The Wildcats went through their annual media training session Thursday night with The Speaking Specialists. Special thanks to Sue Castorino and Randy Minkoff for taking time out to work with both the Northwestern men's and women's teams ... The players got a first glimpse at their new uniforms Thursday evening. The new unis are tentatively planned to be unveiled to the public at the Fast Break Club Tip-off Dinner next Thursday, Oct. 20 at the Hilton Orrington in Evanston. To register or for more information, please visit NUsports.com.