Salukis share the stage with faithful fans

By Tyler Dixon

Close to 300 Saluki fans of all ages flooded the court Thursday for the second-annual Fan Fest at SIU Arena.

Those in attendance were able to stand on the court and play with their favorite Saluki players. Each player was at a station and the fans could go to any one they chose. Stations included everything from an inflatable bounce house to one with the hoop lowered to six feet, allowing anyone to dunk like the real Salukis.

Coach Barry Hinson said his team was not just getting to know the younger fans. “We get everything,” Hinson said. “I know everybody thinks we’re giving but

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we’re not giving, we’re receiving.”

Todd Bryson, a Carbondale resident and an assistant director of University Housing, said he came to Fan Fest for his son Adrian, 9, and to show his support for

the team.

“He sits up here and never gets to meet

the players, I want him to come and enjoy that,” Bryson said.

Saluki pride runs deep in the Bryson family.

Bryson’s father, Seymour Bryson, played for the Salukis in the late 1950s and Todd Bryson said it was good for his son to be able to get on the court like his grandfather.

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“My father played here so he gets to live through his grandfather a little bit,” Todd Bryson said of his son Adrian. “He enjoys this.”

After the fans were done playing with the athletes, the team warmed up with a twist.

Sophomore guard Anthony Beane Jr. caused the younger fans to cheer a little louder when he showed the crowd a variety of dunks.

After a ball handling drill, four Salukis competed in a 3-point competition.

Senior Desmar Jackson, junior Mike Balogun, sophomore Hunter Gibson and freshman Tyler Smithpeters were in the shootout.

After the first round, only two players were left standing, Jackson and Smithpeters; freshman against senior.

Jackson won the 3-point contest by hitting his last shot to beat Smithpeters by one.

Nate Mast, the Director of Operations for men’s basketball, said he told the team that Fan Fest was about more than basketball.

“I just try to remind them that their success on the court is amplified even more by the support in the crowd,” Mast said. “They understood tonight was not about them as much as them getting to know some people in the community and giving them a good time.”

Hinson said this was a chance for his team to be more than just basketball players.

“They get a chance to be a role model and make an impact on someone’s life,” Hinson said.

Balogun said it is a good feeling knowing kids want to come out and see the team play.

“I really like kids, so it puts a smile on my face and keeps me young seeing the little kids,” Balogun said. “I remember that age.”

The team has one more week of practice until it starts the season in an exhibition game against Harris-Stowe State University on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at SIU Arena.

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