Barkley, Ludacris and Epps headline AU basketball's Jungle Jam
In front of a crowd that included famous alumni and celebrities, Auburn basketball's heavily publicized Jungle Jam showcased many of the team's offseason improvements through a scrimmage, three-point shooting and dunk contest.
Comedian Mike Epps and rapper Ludacris headlined the event, while former Auburn basketball star Charles Barkley and former head coach Sonny Smith made appearances as celebrity dunk contest judges.
"I have been blessed and lucky to go all over the world," Barkley said. "Ain't no place I'd rather be than in Auburn, Alabama."
Prior to the dunk contest, Barkley assured the Auburn Arena crowd that embattled head coach Tony Barbee has the program moving in the right direction.
"I know most of y'all came here for football, but Coach Barbee is going to turn this program around and let's turn out tonight," Barkley said.
Sophomore forward Jordon Granger showed off his leaping ability during his Jungle Jam dunk contest victory. His 85 final round points edged him ahead of senior center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum in the final.
Virginia transfer KT Harrell and freshman guard Dion Wade poured it in from range in the three-point shooting contest, but Harrell's 19 final round points assured victory in the contest.
A scrimmage between White and Blue squads saw impressive shooting from white squad members Harrell and Wade, while senior guard Chris Denson displayed his renowned quickness for the blue squad.
The White squad defeated the Blue squad 18-11.
Epps' comedic commentary kept the energetic crowd laughing throughout the events, and his energy even coaxed Barkley and Coach Barbee into busting a few moves of their own.
"The reason why I got Mike Epps and Luda was for the students. You guys have been there every game for us," Barbee said. "You are as important to me as my team and I need you there every single night."
Barbee took to the floor after the scrimmage and called the Auburn student section the very best in the nation.
"This team has been working their tails off," Barbee said. "They're getting after it on the defensive end of the floor and the students are going to make the difference for us this year. Our student section is the best in the country. "
Though Epps and Ludacris have not been the biggest names in entertainment in recent years, Auburn students were impressed by the performance and said that it gave credibility to the basketball program.
"I know these kind of events help to bring out a good crowd and I know that the crowd ultimately feeds the team," said Josh Poole, a graduate student in geology. "They do little pep rallies before each athletic season starts, but a big event like this makes you think that they mean business and it gets the fans directly involved."
All in all, the event seemed to create optimism amongst students and a hopefulness that some of the night's energy might transfer into the regular season.
"An event like this can bring energy back to a program and like Coach Barbee said he brought these guys to hype everybody up," said Reed Burchette, a junior in mechanical engineering.