Oct. 4, 2012
Matt Winkeljohn, Sting Daily -
The sneakers won't start squeaking for real for one more week, or when the NCAA permits full-on basketball practices to begin next Friday.
Mfon Ufofia and the fellas aren't waiting that long to break in McCamish Pavilion.
The Yellow Jackets gathered for a not-so-dry run when they went through a squad workout Tuesday. It was the first semi-official basketball action in the new place, and - though still dripping and panting after skills drills and conditioning work - they raved.
"These lights, man, it's like you're on the main stage," said Udofia, the senior point guard. "It's like being at Staples Center; it feels good. It's a fun feeling to be out here, and back home."
For all the bells and whistles, and there are plenty in the nearly all-new Pavilion that has been built where Alexander Memorial Coliseum had been, location may be as important to the Jackets as anything. These guys are impressed and relieved.
"I mean, we didn't have a home last year and traveling to and fro, playing in Philips [and the Arena at Gwinett] . . . it's definitely good to have your own court especially when it feels like playing in some of the NBA arenas," Jason Morris said.
That answer offers a sense of what McCamish feels like in terms of accoutrements, although it's anything but cavernous like most pro (and some college) buildings.
Who better to check in with than the transitional men? Udofia and juniors Morris, Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey are the only folks on the planet who will be able to say they played in the last game in AMC and the first in the Pavilion.
Miller and Morris started and Udofia and Holsey played on March 6, 2011, when Tech beat Miami 66-57. Brandon Reed was on that team but ineligible to play after transferring from Arkansas State.
A lot has changed in and around the program, nothing more than the coach and the digs.
Miller had six points, six rebounds, three blocks, three assists and two steals against Miami that day. He and his teammates would like to pick up on Nov. 9 where they left off that day against the Hurricanes. Tulane will visit to help christen McCamish, and give second-year Tech coach his first true "home" win at the same time.
It won't take that long for the "old" guys to fall in love with the new place.
The locker room, located between McCamish and the Zelnak practice facility, is not new like McCamish (which retains much of AMC's roofing super structure and virtually noting else). It has been refurbished, though, with dark oak lockers, new carpet, a players' lounge and more. There has been an overhaul in the training room as well.
"It's much better. It's right here on campus. We can walk from dorms or wherever," Miller said. "Just having a home gym . . . I feel like we're the team that has to start rebuilding this program.
"In the locker room, everything is beautiful, high tech. The lockers are nice. They have a game room with video games, a pool table, ping-pong. It's a great atmosphere."
Most practices will be in Zelnak, and the men's and women's teams are back to where scheduling around one another shouldn't be a problem. If coaches Gregory and MaChelle Joseph want floor time at the same time, they have up-close options and multiple floors from which to choose.
Udofia has a favorite shooting spot near his old one, but . . . it's not entirely the same.
"I still have memories," he said. "The other day I was shooting in here, and I went to pretty much the same spot but it's like a whole new arena. I can still feel it a little."
Morris, who made 3-of-5 3 points while scoring 11 points in that win over Miami in '11, claimed a whiff of nostalgia, too. Just barely.
"I only had one year in [AMC]. The Thrillerdome was very old, and although it was coach-speak you felt the tradition; you felt like you were a part of something," he said. "When we were all walking in here for the [first] meet-and-greet, you could just see it on everybody's faces, the feelings that we had.
"This is new, we're the first ones in here so I feel like we're starting something completely different."
I imagine many have read or seen several references to the new basketball home. If you haven't yet visited, give it a look. Bet you'll be impressed. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.