There's no place quite like home
They are the places that make college basketball, the big arenas and small gyms that provide a backdrop, a personality, a heartbeat. This week, ESPN highlights venues across college basketball for "My Home Court."
Our writers have traveled the country and walked away with their own memories. What was their favorite? They'll tell you. You want to tell us yours? Let us know about it on Twitter by using the #MyHomeCourt hashtag.
Nostalgia everywhere inside Hinkle Fieldhouse
Nostalgia is a dangerous thing. Nostalgia lies. Nostalgia convinces people that they were born too late, that the confusing modern world has lost something precious, that life was simpler and easier 50 or 100 or 300 years ago. We see smiling farmers in WPA photos and pine for our own patch of land, conveniently editing out the real brutal struggle of their lives. The good old days were almost never good as we think. Nostalgia makes you feel like you missed out.
Hinkle Fieldhouse, my favorite basketball gym, is a joyous exception to these rules.
You're allowed to get all warm and fuzzy about Butler University's 10,000-seat gym because what it gives you when you see it is, for better and for worse, unchanged from its erection in 1928. The exterior is still the same red brick that covered the outside of the original building when Indianapolis businessmen persuaded the high school state athletic association to spend $1 million on the biggest basketball gym in the country -- something the city could be proud of. (From 1928 to 1971, Butler hosted Indiana's famous all-in high school tournament, including the 1954 "Milan Miracle" that led to "Hoosiers," which recreated the gym in stunning period detail in 1986.) You ascend the same blue-tinged concrete concourse to find your seat. You see the same afternoon sunlight shine down at the same angle through the same windows on the same, original wooden floor, the oldest in college basketball.
There have been a few minor changes along the way: a renaming in 1966, a renovation in 1989, a plaque commemorating its status as a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1983. There are more coming too. Butler is raising millions for planned renovations in the years to come in the hopes of patching up the old barn structurally while improving facilities for players and coaches and "enhancing spectators' experiences."
I'm not sure that's possible. Seeing a Saturday afternoon game at Butler isn't just about seeing basketball. It's about seeing the history of the game in front of you, about having your hair stand up on the back of your neck even if you're not really sure why. It's about connecting to the past in a way that's real and tangible -- not just one more way to sell you some product or idea.
You're allowed to be nostalgic at Hinkle Fieldhouse, but the best part is that you don't need to be. It's still here, and it's still beautiful. May it always be so.
Inside information: Get there early. Hinkle is no less cool when it's full, but anyone who has spent any time shooting around in empty gyms can understand the unique peace of a ball bouncing on a wooden floor in an empty gym. Multiply that feeling by a factor of 100 and you're getting closer.
Dean E. Smith Center creates its own memories
Indiana's Assembly Hall gets louder. Probably the loudest I've ever heard any game, football games inside domes included, is when the Hoosiers played Duke in the 2005-06 season.
Louisville's KFC Yum! Center is cooler. I would throw an invitation-only party in one of the lounges. It has everything that makes a game enjoyable to watch.
Though I enjoy going to games at both of those arenas, I didn't choose my favorite place based on the atmosphere or amenities. I chose the Dean. E. Smith Center for all the memories.
It's where I saw Len Bias play.
My oldest brother Cedric was a student and got a ticket for me, knowing how much I loved watching Maryland play.
All day long, I jokingly talked up "the Len Bias show" coming to town, and that night in 1986 he lived up to the hype. It was one of the best individual performances I've ever witnessed in person. Bias scored 35 points in an overtime win over the Tar Heels.
For a kid in middle school, it became even more memorable when I just happened to be standing near the exit where Bias came back out to the court, still in uniform. I don't know who he was looking for, but when I extended my hand, he dapped me up.
It's where I asked Dean Smith my first question in a postgame news conference. As a student who wasn't sure I'd pursue reporting just yet, I mumbled out a question that I should not have asked. I can't remember the words exactly -- something pertaining to looking ahead to Duke.
Problem was the Tar Heels still had an opponent before that game. Thankfully Smith didn't berate me for the question.
It's where I spent the night (outside).
On what seemed like the coldest night ever in Chapel Hill, my roommate Jimmy, suitemate Corey and I lumbered down to the Smith Center to camp out for Duke tickets.
The line wrapped around the building. Initially, our spot was halfway around the arena, meaning we would be borderline in getting lower-level seats.
Corey found a crack in the system. A semicircle in front of the flag poles had just enough room for us to squeeze in near the front of the line. The tickets were a lottery system then, so despite not being the very first in line, I still ended up with Row A seats right behind the home team basket.
Duke came into the Smith Center ranked No. 1 and undefeated the 1991-92 season. The Blue Devils left with a loss, which brings me to my last Smith Center memory.
It's where I stormed the court.
Like many things I can't explain from my youth, by the time I reached midcourt I wondered what I was supposed to do from there. Didn't matter though; at that point there were so many other kids on the floor that jumping and yelling sufficed.
It's why no other place, for me, is like the Dean E. Smith Center.
Inside information: Had he not staged a comeback in the 1995-96 season, Magic Johnson would have played his final game at the Smith Center in an exhibition before the 1992-93 season. The Lakers played Cleveland in a game that Johnson was cut and bleeding from the arm. Coming after his HIV announcement, all eyes were on the trainer as he tended to Johnson's blood.
Seeing clearly at the Phog
I can't prove I've lost any hearing at Phog Allen, but I've had that hollow feeling in my ears.
And the constant, mesmerizing and hypnotizing refrain of "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk" in my head.
Games at Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse are an event, which make it the most anticipated and must-see destination in the sport.
The building hasn't changed much since it was built. The cathedral-like noise cascades down from the top, whether it's a day game or a night game.
The fans are as committed as any, flocking to Phog Allen like disciples on a religious pilgrimage. The arena is appropriately along Naismith Drive, for it should be deemed the birthplace of a true basketball arena.
Sure, Kentucky's Rupp Arena has its lure, the masses always showing up, regardless of the opponent. Cameron Indoor Stadium has its own charm and traditions while also pushing the noise meter.
But there is only one Phog.
The arena is nestled in the heart of campus. The students will line up, despite the frigid temperatures. They will, almost all of them, be in blue. They will chant, sing and cheer until they are hoarse.
Oh, and the team on the court never disappoints. Sure, San Diego State clipped Kansas to snap the Jayhawks' 68-game home-court nonconference winning streak, but Kansas plays plenty of brand names. Opposing coaches want to play at Kansas. Phog Allen is viewed with such regard that coaches want to experience coaching there and have their players share in the experience. In an era when home-and-home series are fading among the elites, Kansas can still nab at least two or three in a given year.
If you make the journey to Lawrence, you will leave with an experience, a little less of your hearing and a full understanding of what college basketball can be, should be and has been.
You don't have to "Beware of the Phog" unless you are an opponent. If you're a fan, or a media member, you embrace the Phog, for it is hallowed ground where you can experience the true love of the game in its purest form.
Inside information: Take in the whole experience. See the fans wrapped around Phog Allen as they wait to enter. Once inside, walk through the concourse and visit the historical plaques and photos of the tradition-rich players, coaches and events that have come through. And when you're in the arena, make sure to walk around the top to take in the vantage points from various spots. Oh, and don't wimp out with earplugs once the game starts. Take in all the sounds, even if they'll stay with you for days after you leave.
Bring earplugs if you go to the Breslin Center
There's just something about the Breslin Center.
There are certainly more nostalgic venues throughout college basketball -- Cameron Indoor, Rupp Arena, the Phog, Assembly Hall, etc.
But I've always enjoyed the Breslin Center. It's one of the country's best home environments. It helps that the Michigan State fan base loves the game. And the love tends to grow in this sport the more a team wins.
And Michigan State has obviously won a lot of games there.
The Breslin Center opened in 1989, so it doesn't have the history that some of the nation's more noteworthy arenas boast. But that doesn't mean it's any less hostile for opponents.
The moment you arrive, you quickly realize you're not the first one on the scene. Not even close. Doesn't matter how early you show up. Doesn't matter whom they're playing. Doesn't matter how cold it is. Spartans fans will be there. (Michigan State was 18th in Division I attendance last season.)
It's a loud, loud building.
Most schools have a band at home games, but Michigan State's crew is like Parliament. There's a bass player, a funky drummer and a bunch of trumpet and saxophone players who clearly have some soul. The music fuels the raucous environment.
The student section hugs the court, so opposing players certainly hear them when they're on the baseline/sideline. And those Spartans fans are always, um, informed. They might talk about your girlfriend. Actually, they'll definitely talk about your girlfriend. And they never quit. Ever.
And then there's Tom Izzo. That's his building.
He's the maestro of that crowd. If Izzo loses his cool and chastises a ref, the crowd will do the same. When he hugs Adreian Payne after a good play, the cheers erupt.
I've covered some eventful matchups in East Lansing -- much like the one Saturday between Michigan State and Minnesota -- throughout my career. And I've traveled to some of the nation's most historic arenas throughout my career. The Breslin Center's vibe stands out.
That place is a gem in college basketball.
It's difficult to win there because the team feeds off its fan base's energy. That happens everywhere, I know.
But the Breslin Center is a special place when Michigan State is fighting for a victory. I wouldn't want to play the Spartans there. There's definitely some magic in that building.
Inside information: If you're seated anywhere near the band, you might want to bring earplugs. The bass player in the pep band cranks up his amp so you might think you've walked into a rock concert.
There's some old magic in The Palestra
Back in the olden days -- before wireless, before Ethernets, hell, before the Internet -- reporters used couplers to file their stories. You would pick up the phone (an actual phone), dial a number and, when you heard the telltale buzzing, quickly shove the receiver into the two molded couplers to transmit the story.
It always took multiple tries at the Palestra.
Technically, it was because of the noise that ricochets around the place, bouncing from the floor to the seats in the far corners to the rafters and back through the wooden bleachers.
But I always thought it was part of the Palestra magic. What is that magic? It's hard to describe or explain without sounding like some sort of hopeless romantic.
Maybe a little romanticism is OK in this case, because the Palestra, in all its dusty glory, is unlike any other basketball experience.
Built in 1926, it's had a few upgrades along the way, but at its essence it is the same as it always was. It is musty and dusty, and if you catch it at the right time when the upstairs windows are open and the sunlight comes in just so, almost bathed in sepia tones befitting an historical relic.
Great players from every era have stood on the court, and every sort of great game has been played there -- crazy comebacks, epic upsets and impossible finishes.
The special ones were the Big 5 games. Back before the Philly schools retreated to their own corners and on-campus buildings, they would split the house and head to the Palestra. The students would break out the rollouts -- unfurling snarky and occasionally nasty messages from one end of a row to another -- the pep bands would find their upper-deck spots, and the place would practically breathe.
It's not the same without those games and some of the upgrades, such as chairback seats and a new video board, are a little jarring, but the place is still special. There is enough of the old -- the wooden bleacher seats up top, the windy cement ramps to the courts, the windows more fit for a church -- to get the feel of it.
But it's not really about the brick and mortar of the Palestra; it's about the stories. Everyone who has played there, worked there or had the privilege to at least watch one game there has one.
My story: Feb. 9, 1999. It was my birthday. I was working, and my soon-to-be husband, who works at Princeton, went to the game with my college roommate. He arrived at the half, looked at the scoreboard, which read Penn 33, Princeton 9, and asked if one of the light bulbs was out on the scoreboard. No. Except, as every Penn and Princeton fan knows, it didn't end that way. The Quakers would run their lead to 40-13 before the Tigers mounted a comeback for the ages, winning 50-49. I don't remember what I wrote. I'll never forget the game.
That's the real Palestra magic, the memories, the stories, all stitched together to create the fabric of Philadelphia basketball.
Insider information: Arrive early and join the crowd for dinner or a drink at the nearby New Deck Tavern but save time to get in the Palestra before the tip. You'll want to walk the concourse, where displays set up to look like windows detail the history of the building, the Ivy League, the Big 5 and even the reporters who have worked there.
Andy Katz's Weekly Honors
Monday's Game Plan
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When Grant Gibbs lost four to six weeks of his final season at Creighton, it wasn't just bad news for the Bluejays, or a sad break for a 24-year-old senior who is a senior precisely because he has so frequently been injured. It was also -- or at least it appeared to be -- very bad news for senior Doug McDermott.
After Sunday's 35-point, 7-rebound, 5-assist, 13-of-24-from-the-field clinic in Creighton's win over Xavier, let's just go ahead and issue a correction:
Not that the concern wasn't well-founded. The two-time All-American has always drawn the lion's share of the Bluejays' headlines, and rightfully so: He is one of the best and most thrilling offensive players in recent decades. The last time any college basketball player scored like this -- this often, and this efficiently -- his name was Kevin Durant.
But few realize just how important Gibbs has been to that three-year run of success. As Gibbs himself pointed out to SI.com's Luke Winn in November, McDermott maintains his crazy combination of efficiency and usage in large part because he "often scores while holding the ball for less than a second." Since McDermott's breakout sophomore season, the majority of his possessions have taken place on the low block. This season, per Synergy data, nearly 28 percent of his trips end in post-ups. And when McDermott posts up, he doesn't back dudes down for six seconds like, say, Anthony Mason. ("Compare Doug McDermott to Anthony Mason" achievement unlocked.) He pivots and seals and works over either shoulder, depending on where the defender has left himself exposed, often before that defender even knows what's happening. It is immediate and intuitive.
If McDermott is defended well, he'll fade off his back foot, or he'll kick and repost or slide to the wing. But most of the time, he's posting up, and for the past two seasons no player has been better at slinging low pinpoint bounce passes to exactly the place McDermott needs them than has Gibbs.
It was fair to ask whether Gibbs' sudden absence -- to say nothing of the sprained shoulder McDermott suffered in the same game -- would lessen the ease with which the forward racked up his patented buckets. Creighton's sublime offense hinges on McDermott's ability to score frequently and efficiently at the same time, and Creighton's overall chances hinge on its offense. For McDermott, the individual stakes were clear. What if Gibbs' absence diminished his status as the front-runner for national player of the year? What if it cost him his chance to score 3,000 points -- a historic feat only a handful of college basketball players have ever achieved?
Never mind all that. Sunday's by-the-book outburst against a good Xavier group is a one-game sample, sure, but it was also a pretty clear statement: Both the Bluejays and their generational star are versatile enough on the offensive end to thrive without Gibbs, at least for the time being. In the process, McDermott leapt from 36th to 28th on the all-time scoring list, passing Jimmer Fredette, Joe Dumars, Don MacLean, Mark Macon and Calbert Cheaney.
The Bluejays will be fine. McDermott will be fine. So get your Google Alerts aligned, and get your Twitter saved searches on point. The chase for 3,000 is officially on.
Each week we release the Freshman Tracker -- and each week there are new names and movement. This week there's a new leader in the top spot.
This week we also polled nearly 100 college head and assistant coaches. The question: "You get your choice of any freshman in the country. Who are you picking?"
Duke's Jabari Parker was the clear-cut winner, receiving 59 percent of all votes. Kentucky's Julius Randle finished with 27 percent, Arizona's Aaron Gordon compiled 9 percent and both Syracuse's Tyler Ennis and Indiana's Noah Vonleh received 2.5 percent.
Check back each week as we'll have updates on how the top freshmen did on the floor and give you the rundown on the top first-year players in the country in a season in which the young guys wasted little time taking center stage.
Here is our updated ranking of the 10 best freshmen in college basketball.
The Orange floor leader has moved into the top spot for a variety of reasons. Jabari Parker and Julius Randle have struggled lately, and Ennis has also quarterbacked his team to an undefeated record. Ennis runs the team, takes care of the ball, makes his teammates better and also picks his spots when to score. Ennis, who ranks third in the nation in assist-turnover ratio, averaged 11.5 points and seven assists in a pair of wins against Virginia Tech and North Carolina to help keep the Orange undefeated.
"He may not blow you away, but the kid is a winner. It's a guard's game, and Ennis is a pure point guard who makes everyone better." -- one coach who selected Ennis to start his team.
This week: Monday at Boston College; Saturday vs. Pittsburgh
Stats: 11.6 PPG, 5.7 APG, 3.3 RPG, 2.6 SPG | Previous rank: 3
Parker was solid this past week, averaging 13.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in a pair of contests: a win against Georgia Tech and a loss to Clemson on the road. Parker's offensive production has fallen off over the past two weeks, averaging 10.5 points and 6.8 boards over the past four contests while shooting just 33 percent from the field.
"He's just so steady and scores in so many different ways. Solid kid, has size and you don't have to worry about any drama with him." -- one coach who chose Parker
"No one scores it better. He's a tough kid from Chicago who is as consistent as any of those freshmen. He's so hard to guard." -- another coach who selected Parker
This week: Tuesday versus Georgia Tech (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU); Saturday at Clemson
Stats: 19.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 50 percent FG, 40 percent 3-pointers | Previous rank: 1
Randle has also struggled on the offensive end lately, averaging 7.5 points on 6-of-17 shooting in two wins this past week. While his scoring output is down, Randle continues to rebound at a high level. He grabbed 14 boards against Mississippi State and 11 against Vanderbilt on Saturday.
"He's got the size, skill and athleticism. He's a winner and a leader. He is able to guard a forward better than Jabari." -- one coach who chose Randle
"He's unstoppable on the block, and I think his face-up skills get ignored. He's just so tough." -- another coach who chose Randle
This week: Tuesday at Arkansas; Saturday vs. Tennessee
Stats: 16.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG | Previous rank: 2
• Thursday vs. Arizona State, 9 ET, Pac-12
• Monday at Virginia, 7 ET, ESPN
• Saturday vs. NC State, 2 ET, CBS
• Monday at Iowa State, 9 ET, ESPN
• Saturday vs. Oklahoma State, 4 ET, CBS
• Tuesday at Arkansas, 9 ET, ESPN
• Saturday vs. Tennessee, noon ET, CBS
• Monday at Boston College, 9 ET, ESPNU
• Saturday vs. Pittsburgh, 4 ET, ESPN
• Virginia at Duke, 7 ET, ESPN
• Texas at West Virginia, 7 ET, ESPNU
• Syracuse at Boston College, 9 ET, ESPNU
• Kansas at Iowa State, 9 ET, ESPN
• Wisconsin at Indiana, 7 ET, ESPN
• Oklahoma at Kansas State, 7 ET, ESPN2
• Bradley at Wichita State, 8 ET, ESPN3
• Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech, 9 ET, ESPNU
• Notre Dame at Maryland, 7 ET, ESPN2
• South Florida at SMU, 7 ET, ESPNU
• TCU at Oklahoma State, 8 ET, ESPN3
• Baylor at Texas Tech, 9 ET, ESPNU
• Fresno State at SDSU, 10 ET, ESPN3
• Washington at California, 11 ET, ESPNU
• Missouri at Vanderbilt, 7 ET, ESPN2
• Belmont at E. Kentucky, 7 ET, ESPNU
• Connecticut at Memphis, 7 ET, ESPN
• Ohio State at Minnesota, 9 ET, ESPN2
• BYU at San Francisco, 9 ET, ESPNU
• LBSU at UC Santa Barbara, 11 ET, ESPNU
• Green Bay at Wright State, 7 ET, ESPNU
• Canisius at Iona, 9 ET, ESPNU
• Toledo at Akron, 11 a.m. ET, ESPNU
• Temple at La Salle, noon ET, ESPN2
• BC at North Carolina, noon ET, ESPN
• Missouri State at Northern Iowa, 1 ET, ESPNU
• West Virginia at Kansas State, 1:30, ESPN3
• Oklahoma at Baylor, 2 ET, ESPN2
• Alabama at Missouri, 2 ET, ESPN
• Dayton at Richmond, 3 ET, ESPNU
• Pittsburgh at Syracuse, 4 ET, ESPN
• Iowa State at Texas, 4 ET, ESPN3
• Florida at Auburn, 4 ET, ESPN3
• Indiana State at Wichita State, 4 ET, ESPN2
• Cincinnati at South Florida, 5 ET, ESPNU
• Michigan at Wisconsin, 6 ET, ESPN
• Penn State at Purdue, 7 ET, ESPNU
• Louisville at Connecticut, 9 ET, ESPN
• Vanderbilt at LSU, 9 ET, ESPNU
• Washington at Stanford, 11 ET, ESPNU
• Virginia Tech at Notre Dame, 6 ET, ESPNU
• Oregon at Oregon State, 8 ET, ESPNU