After several weeks of practice on the courts in the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness, the men's and women's basketball teams are less than two weeks away from returning to the Robins Center, perhaps as soon as the start of next week.
But instead of returning to the familiar videoless scoreboard, original lighting and bulky risers between the court and stands, the players will get the first glimpse at the long-awaited renovations to the Robins Center interior, perhaps even before all of the renovations are complete.
One major aspect is the technological upgrade from floor to ceiling. Athletic Director Keith Gill said the scoreboard that had hung over the middle of the court would be replaced by large LED video boards in each of the four corners of the arena.
"There will also be a new sound system where the Jumbotron used to be," Gill said, "as well as lighting that only a handful of arenas in the country have. Along with the ability to play videos, this will greatly enhance the pregame and introduction atmospheres. I think these and other effects to enhance the fan experience will surprise people most. It will be a much closer, more intense feel for the fans."
Gill said the expansion downward to the edge of the court would also play a big part in creating such an atmosphere, although the new seats will not differ much in size from the previous seats.
Women's basketball head coach Michael Shafer said that seat installation had been scheduled to begin next week, and that he was excited that the demolition process had almost finished as installation had begun. Gill said the demolition process had been most time-consuming and expensive, because construction crews had to carefully remove a large amount of concrete from the building.
One of the lingering processes has been construction on elevators near the corners of the arena, Shafer said. Men's basketball head coach Chris Mooney said these elevators would be used for easier transportation of supplies between floors and for access to the luxury boxes near the video boards.
"The [construction crews] will be done with the elevators and everything by our home opener," Mooney said. "Everything is going to be so bright and exciting, especially the illumination of the court and addition of video. It's a great arena that will now be updated and enhanced so that it's comfortable and beautiful, but also state-of-the-art. Every single part of the game will be better."
Mooney said it would help his players to have the fans closer to the court and updated lights for a stronger home-court advantage. Because floor renovations were already scheduled for this August and September, the teams would have likely been practicing in the Weinstein Center during those renovations anyway, Shafer said. A new floor will be beneficial to the players, he said. Shafer also said that among the few installation processes already finished, the lights and ceiling were the most important.
"I think when you look at it when it's finished, it's going to feel more modern," Shafer said. "It's going to feel like there's not a bad seat in the house--that everything is going to be on top of the court and the arena will feel smaller. I think the biggest change is going to be the lighting coming down to the floor and painting the ceiling navy. It'll feel more like an NBA arena where it slightly darkens out as you get to the upper echelons, so all the attention will be drawn to the floor."
Shafer's senior forward, Genevieve Okoro, said players would see the new arena differently.
"I think the lack of the Jumbotron in the ceiling will be different for us," Okoro said. "If I wanted to know the score or how much time was left, I would just look up at the clock that was on the middle of the Jumbotron and not out at others. It creates a feeling of a bigger gym without a Jumbotron there."
The smaller gym for practices did not provide as many challenges as the coaches thought outsiders would expect. Mooney and Shafer said that they had gotten all the practice times they normally would have, and that they had been pleased that officials at the Weinstein Center have always been so accommodating in these situations.
Practices in the Weinstein Center have not been too difficult, although the length of the courts and high school three-point line made practices different, said Zach Chu, a junior guard. Fellow junior guard Wayne Sparrow agreed with Chu and said that the video boards in particular would generate excitement and bring fans out to the games, making the practices well worthwhile.
"It will be an attraction for everyone [who] comes to campus that the whole school will benefit from," Gill said. "Whether it's admissions or for special programs, it will be a beautiful facility to sell the school."
Contact reporter Zak Kerr at firstname.lastname@example.org