ARLINGTON, Texas -- To really appreciate basketball in sparkling College Park Center, a UT-Arlington fan only had to compare Wednesday night’s womens/mens grand opening doubleheader to games in their former home, Texas Hall.
An unscientific survey of a few of the near-capacity crowd attending: No comparison.
College Park Center is an eye-popping structure on the eastern edge of the campus. For a price tag of $78 million, UTA has an arena that seats 7,000 with every seat within shouting range of a referee.
Cowboys Stadium architect HKS Inc. did the design.
If UTA can draw near-capacity crowds like the one Wednesday, the Mavericks will have a real home-court advantage on their hands because it can get loud.
The Mavericks celebrated opening night by extending their school-record winning streak to 12 with a 67-66 victory over UT-San Antonio to retain their hold on first place in the Southland West. UTA improved to 16-5 and 8-0 in the conference. UTSA dropped to 14-8, 6-2.
“It was just a different feeling,’’ said LaMarcus Reed, who led UTA with 24 points. “That noise just goes through you. It was a big deal for us. It helped us a lot throughout the game.
“The first time I heard the crowd, it kind of surprised me. We feed off stuff like that.’’
The new digs come at a perfect time, with UTA joining the Western Athletic Conference in July.
Maybe the nicest thing about College Park Center’s debut is that it means decades of the Texas Hall basketball experiment are over. No matter how it sounded on the drawing board, placing a basketball court on the stage of an auditorium never really worked.
UTA president James D. Spaniolo got a big roar from the crowd between games when he said, “Some say our destiny is to play on a stage. Let them come to College Park!’’
Bob “Snake’’ LeGrand, UTA men’s basketball head coach for 11 seasons, vehemently denies ever trying to pass off TCU’s Daniel Meyer Coliseum as UTA’s facility in his recruiting days.
“How could I take them to another school and make them think it is UTA,’’ said LeGrand, Mavericks’ coach from 1976-87. “But I do remember chaining the doors at Texas Hall. Then when I came back with a recruit, I’d say, ‘Shoot, we can’t go in, it’s locked.’ ’’
LeGrand was in the first row behind the scorer’s table at College Park Center on opening night.
“This is long overdue,’’ LeGrand said. “I would have loved to have it in my day. When you think about it, with the campus UTA has, how have they not had something like this before now. And 7,000 is just the right size.’’
Arlington resident Kurt Koke brought his son to opening night. In the early 1980s, Koke was a member of a Hardin-Simmons basketball team that played against UTA at Texas Hall.
“I wouldn’t say it was the worst place we ever played, because we played in some pretty bad ones,’’ Koke said. “But I remember the locker rooms were musty. The fear as a player was that you were going to fall off the stage. It was a very strange shooting background, too.
“There’s no comparison with this place, like night and day,’’ Koke said as he glanced around College Park Center for the first time. “I had the opportunity to go a game at Duke and this is not all that much smaller than Cameron Indoor.’’
The arena will be utilized for concerts, stage events and commencement exercises.
The arena is the centerpiece of the a mixed-use, 20-plus acre project known as College Park Center that will include residential and retail development near downtown Arlington.
The first win in College Park Center will forever belong to the UTA women after a 51-40 win over UT-San Antonio.
“It’s a magical moment that is ours,’’ said UTA women’s coach Samantha Morrow. “All those people before us that waited and waited and now it is here.
“It is so loud during timeouts, I have to scream,’’ said Morrow. “I love it.’’