WNBA star Tamika Catchings remembers it starting for her in high school. Splitting time between Stephenson HS in Illinois and Duncanville HS in Texas due to her parent’s divorce, the popular thing before her basketball games would be for her team to surround each other, run through a couple of chants then lineup for player introductions.
The reserves then formed a tunnel with the starters seated on the bench waiting for their name to be called. At the end of the tunnel was probably the most important person on the team next to the leading scorer, the “hype girl.” This is the final pep talk that’s not really a talk. It’s a mime of looking in the mirror for a beauty check, a Namaste bow, a chest bump with finger snaps and Kid-n-Play spin around.
“We had a coke machine by where we went out so one of my teammates would be on the Coke machine doing the beat and we would do our chants and dancing,” Catchings remembered of the prep days. “Then we’d do our (tunnel) things. It was the ‘hype up’ to get you pumped. You’ve already warmed up a couple times, went to chapel and then it was like, ‘Alright, let’s go!’
“It’s a responsibility,” Catchings continued, she’s a high-five type now as an All-Star for the Indiana Fever . Teammate Shavonte Zellous, the 2013 WNBA Most Improved Player award-winner, is the team’s designated “hype girl.”
“Once you start, you’re expected to do what you did to get everybody hyped up,” said the MVP, who’s entering her 13th year when Indiana opens the 2014 WNBA season at Chicago on May 16 . “It almost becomes important. Every year you think of what you’re going to do. Not me. But they think of what we’re going to do walking down the tunnel. What we’re going to do before walking out on the court. I’m normally the one says the speech before we go out on the court. But for the tunnel? They clap, do t heir handshakes…it’s almost a little bit extreme.”
Fans at the Pac-12 tournament will see the variety before the players take the court for the open-round games beginning at noon at KeyArena. Ninth-seeded Colorado plays eighth-seeded UCLA at noon, which will also be broadcasted on Pac-12 Networks.
In fact, of the 12 conference teams, only No. 4 Stanford doesn’t have an elaborate show before the show. It’s old-school in the way the players line up with no final Hype Girl. Instead the starters give each other high-fives as each is named. A style USC coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke honestly prefers.
“When I played, no. We definitely didn’t do things like that,” said Cooper-Dyke, who won NCAA championships for the Trojans in 1983 and 1984 alongside Cheryl Miller. “We didn’t waste energy that way. But, that’s the new kid and how they get motivated for the game. As a coach, I really don’t care how they get motivated as long as they get motivated and are passionate about what they do out there on the court. I’m shocked that we haven’t twisted an ankle or something from all of the stuff — jumping up, chest-bump, handshake. It’s been interesting.”
For Washington, sophomore Heather Corral is the designated “Hype Girl.” She squats down with G Jazmine Davis, does “The Bernie” with F Talia Walton and a Namaste bow with G Kelsey Plum and on. Sideline after knee surgery last winter, Davis said Corral wanted to be “that” player for the team.
On No. 20 Cal’s squad, it’s hard to tell who’s leading the pack sometimes. As is their play, when the shots are dropping, the second seeded Bears are one of the more entertaining teams to watch warmup. On road games, they hear the home team’s arena music and run their own party in the space designated for the visitors. The player introductions feature spins the latest hip-hop moves and a huddle with the Hype Girl shouting chants to the rafters before taking their places for the center jump.
“I taught them those moves, they all come from me,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who at 36 is the second to CU coach Linda Lappe (33) as the youngest coaches in the Pac-12. “My philosophy in general is that college basketball and college athletics should be enjoyable. Does that mean they enjoy every sprint or defensive drill that we do? Of course not. I don’t think any 19-year-old would. But you want them to feel that they are part of something special.
“We’re very competitive. We’re very serious about our practices and our game-plan and our preparation. But basketball is fun and our kids play better when they feel good. When they’re confident. All of that pregame hype stuff that they do speaks to how they feel about each other, this program and how they feel about playing basketball together. It’s great.”