January 25, 2012

UTA's new sports arena comes fully equipped

What has been erected on Pecan Street on the east side of the campus would have been thought of as fantasy only a few short years ago.

ARLINGTON -- Forgive if someone should refer to UT Arlington's College Park Center as Neverland.

What has been erected on Pecan Street on the east side of the campus would have been thought of as fantasy only a few short years ago. Could it really happen? Never.

But it has, and the men's and women's basketball teams will be better for it, coaches said Wednesday during a tour of the stately $78 million, 218,000-square-foot arena with amenities that might even leave the verbose Donald Trump speechless.

This is a place to develop a student-athlete.

"This is exciting," said new athletic director Jim Baker, who will officially begin his new duties on Feb. 1. "As I walked through the building, I couldn't believe the building has all this.

"For a 7,000-seat arena, I don't think anyone can touch it in the country."

The College Park Center puts UTA on a different tier and with new peers on the NCAA Division I landscape.

Texas Hall, the combination theater and events center that has been the home of the school's indoor sports, lacked everything the new place has, even locker rooms. College Park Center not only has spacious locker rooms for each of the three home teams (men's and women's basketball and volleyball), it also has video production and viewing rooms, cutting-edge sports medicine and weight rooms and practice courts.

The practice courts are worth every penny to coaches, who with Texas Hall as home court spent a lot of time merely trying to find a place to work out.

"We had to work out in four or five different places and you can't be in your arena in December because the Nutcracker's in there," said women's coach Samantha Morrow, whose team is 3-17 after falling to Nebraska-Omaha on Tuesday night at Texas Hall. "Those were all detrimental.

"For camaraderie and the team concept, it's huge to have that locker room."

The men and women officially open the College Park Center with a doubleheader, starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday against UT San Antonio.

The timing of the move is tricky for coach Scott Cross' men's team, which faces the risks associated with change in the midst of a 10-game winning streak and an 8-1 record at Texas Hall.

The men are 14-5 and ranked No. 19 in the mid-major Top 25 compiled by

The Mavericks worked out in the building for the first time Tuesday morning to begin getting a feel and making adjustments, especially with the backdrop.

"Yes, it would have been nice to have 40 workouts in here where we really could have gotten used to it," Cross said. "But at the same time [seniors] LaMarcus Reed, Bradley Gay and Bo Ingram deserve an opportunity to play in this facility.

"I'm very glad we're going to do it now."

The only thing missing now is spectators. The place is built and officials are hopeful they will come.

With all its features, College Park Center gives UTA a competitive advantage. They want to make it difficult for opponents to play here.

"I think the best way to do that is to get people here," Reed said. "The louder it gets in here, the better."

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