Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Our favorite college basketball arenas
Our panel of writers and contributors have been fortunate enough over the years to watch college basketball in the nation's finest, most historical arenas. Which provided the coolest experience for them?
(Editor's Note: It's important to note that these aren't our list of the "top" arenas in the country, but simply the arena that provided the most memorable experience for each individual on the panel.)
Stephen Bardo: I love the history and tradition of Allen Fieldhouse in Kansas. The seats near the court are so close, you can see players changing their minds! The up-tempo style of play that Jayhawks coach Bill Self uses, coupled with an extremely knowledgeable and loud fan base, usually spells doom for the visitors. Many schools have coordinated cheers, but when you hear "Rock Chalk Jayhawk," it's lights-out. Oh, and how many other venues are located on Naismith Drive?
Jay Bilas: I was really lucky to play, coach and broadcast games in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and that venue always will be the most special place to see a game. But taking Cameron out of the equation, it is Phog Allen Fieldhouse, and I'm not sure it is even a close call. One of my favorite parts of The Phog is the feel. I have sat there before practice when the place is empty, and it really seems to speak to you. That building just oozes history and tradition. There are no bells and whistles. It is about Kansas basketball, and everyone there is all-in. I have called it the St. Andrews of college basketball, and I believe that. Plus, the cherry limeade I usually get at halftime is pretty strong.
It might not be the ideal spot for sportswriters, but there's no denying the allure of Cameron Indoor.
Eamonn Brennan: Cameron Indoor Stadium. Sure, the Crazies can get annoying. (Nothing halts the creative juices quite like a snarky 20-year-old loudly reading the game story on your laptop from the first row of the student section. Nerd.) But the hype is real: Cameron mixes the intimacy and charm of classic basketball field houses with the big-time thrill and atmosphere we expect from our best collegiate crowds. Insane, annoying, smart-aleck fans are what make college hoops so fun, and few have as much fun as the rowdy folks at Duke.
Hubert Davis: The coolest place I've ever seen and announced a game is Phog Allen Fieldhouse, home of the Kansas Jayhawks. I've been to a number of arenas to play and announce, and nothing comes close! KU's atmosphere is the perfect storm -- it has great history, fanatical fans, legendary players and coaches and championship pedigree. I do not like announcing a game there, however, because I have to focus on the game. I'd rather be taking in the entire experience!
Pat Forde: Cameron Indoor Stadium. Truth be told, it's a difficult place to cover a game from a media standpoint -- unless you like sweat and body paint from a Duke student on your back while you're trying to take notes. The students are literally on top of you on press row. But there's no complaining allowed when you come to Cameron. The atmosphere is unparalleled in college basketball.
Fran Fraschilla: For a guy from Brooklyn who grew up idolizing the "find the open man" New York Knicks of the late 1960s and early '70s, coaching in Madison Square Garden was as big a thrill as a basketball junkie could have. In fact, one of my favorite memories actually came in a close loss to St. John's in the Holiday Festival in December 1994, when I was the young coach at Manhattan College. The Jaspers came in undefeated, and all of New York was talking about the game. When we went on a 10-0 run in the second half to take the lead in front of a sellout crowd of 19,500, I had an out-of-body experience. We fell a little short on a questionable call late in the game, but I felt for a moment a part of the great history of the "World's Most Famous Arena."
Doug Gottlieb: I have to be a homer here and say Oklahoma State's Gallagher-Iba Arena. When it is full, it is intimidating, loud and orange -- very, very orange. It is pretty big now, yet it still holds on to the charm of the pint-sized place that was redone after the 2000 season. Runner-up: Phog Allen at Kansas. Great fans, great players, great, old field house. Perfection.
Andy Katz: I know opposing coaches weren't thrilled to play games at Stanford's Maples Pavilion when the bouncy floor caused the backboard to sway. Trying to hold your pen steady to chart the game or type on your laptop along press row was never an easy chore, either. But the game that I'll always remember was seeing No. 2 Stanford beat Arizona on Feb. 7, 2004, as Nick Robinson's long 3-pointer at the buzzer kept the Cardinal undefeated. The atmosphere inside Maples was one of the most festive I've ever seen. Tiger Woods and Jim Plunkett were in attendance, and the scene was absolutely dizzying after the game. It was the ultimate college atmosphere.
Diamond Leung: Madison Square Garden. This is the place you read about in books and see on TV in documentaries. The ceiling of the building is stunning, and the colors on the court are distinctive. Walking across the playing surface made you feel famous, and apparently I wasn't the only West Coaster to feel that way. Even after a 16-point loss to St. John's, UCLA players were seen snapping photos of one another to mark the occasion.
Joe Lunardi: Pauley Pavilion. When I discovered college basketball, Westwood was the gold standard. To see all the championship banners, meet John Wooden and "Lewis" Alcindor and watch the UCLA dancers, now that was really something. Runner-up: The Palestra. I wanted to get married there, but they didn't have chair-back seats then. So about 300 games in 30 years will have to suffice.
Dana O'Neil: The Palestra is a Philadelphia basketball assault to the senses. It smells of pretzels and history, a perfectly perfumed mustiness that somehow brings today's game back in time. The lighting is suspect, so everything looks old-school grainy, as if a live game were being played in sepia tone. And when the building is filled to the corners with opposing pep bands dueling out fight songs, it is so loud that the tables that double as reporters' work space literally shake. The Palestra is what made the Big 5 so special during its heyday, and it is what makes Philadelphia basketball so special today.