EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- The Michigan State men's basketball team began its bid for a third national title with its annual Midnight Madness celebration, "A Spartan Salute" to the nation's true heroes.

Michigan State's Shannon Brown moves up the court on Oct. 14. (Michigan State)
"We wanted to honor all the people who keep us out of harm's way every day," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of the school's men's and women's programs. "That's why we recognized our military, the Army and Navy, the Red Cross and emergency medical technicians. They're the ones who deserve the applause."

Izzo called on Spartans fans to fill Breslin Center and show their support Friday night, when NCAA rules allow college basketball practice to begin. A near-capacity crowd of about 12,000 fans was still filing in at 11 p.m., 90 minutes after an autograph session began.

With a choreographed entrance, fireworks, streamers and a flag that covered the entire court, Michigan State's head coaches and players also paid tribute to police and firefighters. A remote feed from soldiers in Kuwait returned the Spartans' thanks.

"It was awesome," redshirt freshman center Idong Ibok, a Nigerian native, said after each team scrimmaged for 10 minutes. "We were able to give our fans a little something and make individual contact. And that flag was just amazing."

The late-night event was scheduled the introduction of the men's and women's basketball teams and scrimmages by both teams.

Izzo's team, favored to win the school's first Big Ten title since a fourth straight crown in 2001, returns four starters from a 26-7 squad -- center-power forward Paul Davis, wings Maurice Ager and Shannon Brown and point guard Drew Neitzel.

"It has been an incredible year for me," said Izzo, who spent six days in Kuwait and led Camp Arafat to an armed-forces basketball title. "When I got back, I had a meeting and told my team, 'If you can be as disciplined and focused as our troops over there, we could be a potential national champion.' "

Michigan State became the first school to beat Duke and Kentucky in the same NCAA Tournament last March en route to its fourth Final Four in seven seasons, a feat accomplished by just seven other schools.

Joanne P. McCallie's women's team went one game further, finishing 33-4 and losing to Baylor in the NCAA championship game. But wins and losses were secondary for one night, even after raising three championship banners to the rafters.

"The people we honor tonight do remarkable things," McCallie said. "And we salute these incredible heroes. We're proud of them and proud to be Spartans."

In Lexington, Ky., more than 23,000 fans filled Rupp Arena for Kentucky's Big Blue Madness to signal the start of college basketball practice.

The school brought in Jon Mason, the public address announcer for the NBA's Detroit Pistons, to handle the introductions for the event. (Former Kentucky standout Tayshaun Prince plays for the Pistons.)

-- Courtesy AP