Wednesday, September 7, 2011
The toughest arena I ever played in ...
By ESPN.com staff
In our look at college basketball arenas, our panel of writers and contributors identified the coolest environment they've ever experienced as well as a bucket list of arenas they're dying to see. A number of coaches weighed in as well. We asked four ESPN contributors who played college hoops to identify the toughest arena they ever played in. Here are their choices:
Stephen Bardo: The McKale Center at Arizona edges out the Dean Dome for me. When I was at Illinois, we traveled to Tucson in late January, leaving behind a foot of snow in Champaign. The warm weather gave the place an almost exotic feel in the middle of winter. I remember practicing in McKale the day before and thought the place was nice, but was not overly impressed. Then game day came and that place transformed into a sea of red- and blue-clad fans ready for war. Their crowd stood the whole game and called us everything but our names. We were up 10 points with 12 minutes remaining in the second half when Sean Elliott went baseline, dunked, got fouled and completed the three-point play. The place went berserk! Zona came back to win by five and I swear I lost some of my hearing that afternoon.
Jay Bilas: To me, the toughest places to play had more to do with the quality of the opposing team than anything else, but Reynolds Coliseum at NC State was the toughest place I played while in college. Reynolds was configured much the same way as Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the end zones were much deeper and the sides were right on top of you. Reynolds was loud, edgy and intense. The Wolfpack under Jim Valvano were a tough out and the games were always fistfights, but the thing I remember most is coming back to a huddle and seeing lips move, but not being able to hear what was said. It was so hot and loud that your head would spin. Of course, having to guard guys like Thurl Bailey, Lorenzo Charles, Cozell McQueen and Chris Washburn probably had something to do with my head spinning.
Hubert Davis: The toughest place I ever played was Reynolds Coliseum, former home of the NC State Wolfpack. Cameron Indoor Stadium and Cole Field House don't even come close. I remember the long walk from the locker room to the floor. You had to enter under the bleachers and then had to sprint to the floor so that the fans wouldn't throw soda on us. The end zone seating went back as far as I've ever seen – the sea of red just never seemed to end. In the four years I played there as a Tar Heel, I never scored on the opposite basket away from our bench in the first half. I eventually calmed down, but was always flustered in those first 20 minutes. It was that intimidating.
Doug Gottlieb: Given the team I played for, I would have to say Oklahoma was the toughest road environment for me. While we won twice there in three tries -- and while OU doesn't traditionally fill up the Lloyd Noble Center for non-rivalry games -- the Kelvin Sampson vs. Eddie Sutton Bedlam days were special. We HATED them. Hated everything from their offense to their matchup zone to all the hugging and perceived fake hustle when they played on television. Norman is about 75 minutes from Stillwater and we always stayed at the Holiday Inn just off I-35. At 1 a.m. the night before we played the Sooners, members of their band played Boomer Sooner outside the hotel to serenade us.
Oklahoma isn't known for its rowdy basketball crowds, but when Doug Gottlieb and his OSU teammates came to town, it was a different story.
Walking into the LNC for my first Bedlam was amazing. Our vans always parked at the end of the ramp that leads from the parking lot into the arena and fans were above us, lining the top of the ramp throwing snowballs, confetti and chanting "OSU sucks!" as we walked in. The locker rooms were, as all visiting locker rooms are, small and useless. Walking into the actual gym an hour and a half before the game the entire student section was full and alive. There was a Gottlieb "Bricko-meter," an Eddie Sutton Emery Delivery outfit and even several other inside joke signs to make us feel welcome.
The Rufnecks who usually ride the Sooner Schooner during football games have their paddles and talk trash the entire game while standing on the sideline next to cheerleaders. During the first timeout, the sound system blares "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be..." and the entire crowd yells "Cowboys!" Factor in OU's brutally physical style, our constant foul trouble and the fact they were the only team in the league to use Baden basketballs (which seemed flat to me), and the normally tame LNC was like a completely different building for Bedlam.
Halftime was always contentious as both teams exit through the same vomitorium and then up the same ramp, leading to bumping and trash talk. Though we won there twice -- and that may be the best feeling of my career as we were able to walk proud and tall back in Stillwater -- the noise OU fans made when they blew us out my junior year, and the feeling of dejection riding home, was as painful a memory as any loss I have ever suffered. LNC is not a tough place to play normally, but in the good ol' days of Bedlam, it rocked.