The corner of Main and Hampton streets turned into a mini-version of Colonial Life Arena on Friday night.
South Carolina’s 2019-20 basketball teams were introduced to fans like no previous rosters.
A half-court in the middle of downtown set the stage for Frank Martin and Dawn Staley’s squads. The “Gamecock Tip-Off” event, played out in front of over 1,000 spectators, included dunks, 3-pointers and random non-basketball competitions between the two teams.
It all came under the lights.
“The idea to have an outside option like this has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time in my career,” said Blake Edmunds, South Carolina’s assistant athletic director for marketing and fan engagement. “Basically, it just kind of came together. Like, ‘Hey, let’s do this. Let’s try it out. Let’s see what it takes. Let’s see what kind of financial needs we need for it and what type of support we’ll get for it. And if it makes sense, let’s do it.’
“And it did make sense. And it’s something I think I see coming more of a tradition.”
A garnet-and-black bounce house at the front of the Columbia Museum of Art set an edge for where fans gathered. They began arrival around 5 p.m., some 90 minutes before teams were introduced.
“I think this is awesome,” said Jeff Bradt, a Gamecock fan of 30 years, who was in town from New York. “It’s a great way to start the excitement and to bring out kids. It’s a great night with a great weekend of football.
“People will actually not only start thinking of football, but get excited for basketball.”
Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks host top-10 Florida at noon Saturday. Staley’s Gamecocks were just picked to win the SEC. Martin has tabbed his Gamecocks the most talented of his eight-year tenure in Columbia.
“I think the men’s team is going to be really exciting,” Bradt said. “I think with the players they have coming back and the new players, I think it’s going to be a great year.
“And the women’s team, they’re always good.”
Both Martin and Staley were impressed with the atmosphere.
“I thought it was great,” Staley said. “I thought there was a lot of excitement. People came out. It was a full house. So hopefully we can move it to a bigger street. Like, let’s block off Gervais.”
Added Martin: “The next step is find a bigger block, put a whole court down and make it a big block party. Just like they block off Main Street on Saturdays (for Soda City Market), make it a big ole festival. ... Usually the fans have to come to us. We’re bringing us to the fans.”
Three years from guiding USC to a national title, program legend and WNBA star A’ja Wilson served as a co-host of Friday’s event.
Edmunds said he researched schools — such as Pittsburgh and Ole Miss — that previously held outdoor basketball tip-off events.
“They told me what to expect and what to plan for,” Edmunds said.
Still, like anything going through its first try, there were surprises.
“No one expected we needed a tow truck to move the basketball goal,” Edmunds said. “But you live and learn.”
The men’s team has an exhibition game Oct. 30 against Columbia International and follows with the regular season opener Nov. 6 against North Alabama at CLA.
The women’s exhibition is Nov. 1 against North Georgia. Its opener is Nov. 5 against Alabama State.
“(Staley’s) games in November and December — and ours — count,” Martin said. “Our fans are awesome. And giving them something to be excited about before the season starts just shows everyone the commitment we all have to represent us the right way.”