Ryan LaFollette/Photo Editor Andre Heard can&t wait for the start of the 2005-06 season.

Bearcat fans rejoice – the long wait for Binghamton basketball is finally over.

Well, sort of.

Tonight’s Late Nite Madness will be the student body’s first opportunity to check out the 2005-06 men’s and women’s basketball teams. (The men will open their two-game exhibition schedule on Nov. 4, while the women debut Nov. 7.)

“The goal is to spread awareness of athletics and the basketball team as a whole, to get everybody hyped for the upcoming season, and get everyone together to start to form some school pride in our athletics,” said Andrea Wong, a junior who is the festivals chair of BU’s University Programming Board.

With lots of free giveaways, free food and numerous contests designed to get fans involved, the programming board is aiming for over 1,500 students to attend tonight’s event. Newly-designed BU Zoo T-shirts will be distributed to the first 500 fans in attendance, and hot dogs, popcorn and soda will be free of charge.

The program, organized by the student-run UPB, is becoming an annual tradition here at BU, but there are several changes from last year’s event.

In contrast to last year’s Madness, where many students actually left the event before the teams took the court near 11 p.m., the players will be introduced early on. Also, athletes will take part in almost every interactive contest.

“We’re focusing more on the basketball team than last year,” said Bill Kroll, assistant director of campus life. “Last year we got a lot of students that came down for the bike show, but this year, we think the basketball team should be the highlight.”

In a new feature this year, fans will have a chance to check out the men’s team playing a Globetrotter-like game against a team of “scrubs.” The Bearcats and the scrubs will warm up, followed by a three-minute “game.”

Some fans, however, may be more interested in the opportunity to win money and prizes, like an Olum’s recliner or an Apple iPod Nano. In tonight’s final contest, a student will be given a chance at a half-court shot worth $1,000.

The main entertainment act tonight is Stickman, a performer who Kroll claims will make a half-court shot of his own off of an oversized stick.

But the main focus will be drawing attention to the basketball teams. Men’s head coach Al Walker, always an advocate of the raucous BU Zoo, said he’s very excited about tonight’s atmosphere: “I hope that there’ll be a great environment to enjoy [tonight].”

“Some students need that little extra to maybe go down to the Events Center, maybe see what the building’s like,” Kroll said. “This might get a student to say, ‘wow, that was pretty nice down there at the Events Center, maybe I’ll check out another game.’ If we didn’t think it helped, we wouldn’t be doing it.”

Late Nite Madness begins at 9 p.m. tonight in the Events Center and admission is free.