PEMBROKE — With the lights out and spotlights shining on the players coming through the inflatable archway at mid-court, the fifth-annual Moonlight Madness marked the first public appearance for the 2015-2016 basketball teams at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke inside the English Jones Center.
“It’s a fun night,” men’s basketball coach Ben Miller said. “We do a lot of goofy stuff, but it gives the fans a chance to come out, see our team and the women’s team in a little different light.”
The night was capped off with the main event, a dunk contest that pitted senior forward and three-time defending dunk contest champion Jihad Wright against three newcomers to the team.
Wright defended his crown by defeating junior transfer Mike Smith in the final round with a between the legs dunk off a toss from himself — similar to the dunk that won him the 2013 contest.
“This year I added something new,” Wright said. “I added the alley in there. I haven’t done the same dunk in any of the contests.”
After sitting out last season with a redshirt, Wright is one of four seniors who bring several years of playing experience to the floor.
“I missed (playing) too much,” he said.
Coming off its best season in the Division II era, the Braves have familiar faces from last year’s team including guards Quamain Rose, Brandon Watts and Alex Bradley — who carried much of the scoring load in the intrasquad scrimmage.
Bradley, after sitting out last year for as a redshirt, had nine points on three 3-pointers. Watts drained two triples to finish with six points and Texas Southern transfer Giavonni Mack had seven points.
“I’d like to see a little more balance,” said Miller of the guard-heavy scoring in the scrimmage. “We do have guys that can score inside, but it did look like a pickup game at times. We will get a little better balance once we get into these exhibition games.”
The men’s team starts off its exhibition slate at home against the All-Army team on Oct. 30 and travels to Wake Forest on Nov. 6. The Braves also have a closed-door scrimmage against Coker next week.
“We’ve got three great opportunities to go against somebody else,” Miller said. “I do feel like our exhibition games are going to be great competition, and then our non-conference is going to prepare us for the Peach Belt.”
On the women’s side, there is a mix of new and returning players for coach John Haskins.
“We are trying to blend a few new players in with some veterans,” Haskins said.
Haskins pointed to a healthy Chandrica Fuller that could lead UNCP this season after suffering with injuries for the past two years.
“We were 1-8 in the first semester and 9-8 the second semester and I thought she made a big difference in terms of leadership,” Haskins said of getting Fuller back in January last season.
The women’s team travels to Campbell on Nov. 13 and UNC Wilmington on Nov. 15 for its two exhibition contests.
“There are some teams that could be low DI in the Peach Belt,” Haskins said. “I think its a good barometer of where you’re at and what kind of level you are going to have to compete against.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.