By Richard Lewis
Young and old, casual and diehard, it was a night for Iowa basketball fans Friday — and even impromptu family reunions.
The occasion: The Black & Gold Blowout, an event heavy on entertainment, fun and frivolity, with a dash of basketball mixed in for good measure.
Hawkeye supporters ate it up. Jacqueline Lumsden traveled from Fort Madison with her son, Logan, and his girlfriend to soak in the spectacle. Serious fans, these.
“I’m anxious to get a glimpse of the team,” said 21-year-old Logan, as he diverted his gaze from a poster of the men’s team he had scooped up on the way in. “Last year when the season ended, ESPN was saying this will be the year we make our mark.”
His mother agreed.
“We’re not fair-weather fans,” she said, with more than a bit of pride. “We’ve been fans forever. We’ve watched through thick and thin. While everyone was turning the (TV) channel, we never gave up on our Hawkeyes. We knew this day would come.”
In a way, expectations for the men and women haven’t been higher for some time.
The men are coming off their best regular season finish under coach Fran McCaffrey, now in his fourth year with the Hawkeyes. That team finished 25-13 and advanced to the NIT Finals. This year’s squad, with four returning starters, is widely expected to have a good shot to make the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 2006.
McCaffrey doesn’t mind the expectations. He, too, expects his team to be in the field of 64.
“It was realistic last year,” McCaffery said. “We came really close. This year, with the experience and depth we have, it’s clearly a realistic goal, and it’s the goal of our team, without question.
“I think we have a great shot, but now we have to go out and prove it.”
The women, meanwhile, hope to continue their run of postseason showings. Coach Lisa Bluder has guided the Hawkeyes to six straight NCAA Tournaments, the most of any school in the Big Ten, and joining only 12 other women’s teams nationwide with that distinction. Like the men, the women bring experience back, returning eight from last year’s team that went 21-13.
The players expect to be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
“And I don’t mind that,” Bluder said. “I think that’s why these women chose to be Hawkeyes. I think that’s what they want out of this program.”
As soon as the doors opened, fans were greeted with a host of souvenirs, from Blowout T-shirts to key chains, team posters, even mint packets inscribed with “Rising,” the men’s mantra this season. Two lucky people were chosen to sit on the bench with the coaches and players.
The women opened. One by one, the players entered on an elevated stage, dancing to the beat of their favorite tune and waving to the crowd as two columns of flames licked the air. Coach Bluder arrived, carried aloft by the players to midcourt on a makeshift chariot, like a conquering hero returning home.
Freshman Ally Disterhoft, the much-heralded freshman from West High, showed no jitters in her first public appearance as a Hawkeye, scoring seven of her team’s first nine points in the scrimmage, including a nifty finish on an alley oop.
McCaffrey, meanwhile, made his grand appearance by emerging from a giant, inflatable basketball rolled to midcourt by players Aaron White and Devyn Marble.
Strolling unassumingly on the concourse before the players took the court was Joi Thrash. She was carting ice cream in a waffle cone boat and flanked by a 5-year-old boy decked in an Iowa basketball jersey, emblazoned with his older brother’s number.
“I’ve come to see my son,” Thrash replied to a question. “Number Four. He’s Devyn Marble.” Indeed, Thrash missed her son, so much that she had driven from Southfield, Mich., for the Blowout. It was the first time she had seen him other than a fleeting encounter in an airport since June.
“We enjoyed ourselves coming last year,” Thrash said. “And, it’s his senior year, so we made the trip.”