The Justice Center it ain’t.
For those of us who consider ourselves fans of UNC Asheville basketball, yesterday’s game was, in the words of Monty Python, something completely different. Or, in the words of J.P. Primm, “presidential.” I for one don’t understand why Barack Obama chose to go on to Hawaii instead of hanging out in Asheville for the weekend and catching the game. (The offer stands, Mr. President).
Roy Williams used the phrase “big time” to refer to Kimmel Arena. I think the descriptor fits. It’s certainly not the Dean Dome, and we have a ways to go, but it’s a massive upgrade from the Justice Center.
Pros: This felt like what a college basketball game in North Carolina between two NCAA tournament teams ought to feel like. The crowd was energetic and loud, the levels of service available to fans were outstanding, and the entire presentation of the game was done very well.
Our seats were 3 rows back at midcourt, and I still felt closer to the game than I did at the Justice Center. This is largely due to the fact that, for most people, the game is taking place at eye level. You no longer have the barriers dividing fans from the game, a point that was brought home to me personally when, after I had moved behind the bench in the second half, two players (Reggie Bullock and Jaron Lane) came flying over the bench along with a basketball which, due to a strong liberal arts education, I was able to catch. Never would’ve happened at the Justice Center. It was exciting and you felt invested in the game.
The Students. Apart from one Carolina fan who thought it would be funny to wear a psycho t jersey and carry a pom pom around, the new and improved student section represented the university exceedingly well. It was the student section that made this a home game and helped sustain the players when things got tough. Some mild taunting of UNC was also appreciated, though the “overrated” chant was, as I’ve previously mentioned, backwards in attitude. But it was heartening to see almost 1/4 of the student body at a home basketball game, especially for those of us who remember when the men’s basketball team would play to an almost empty house. The challenge will be to sustain this, if not against Mars Hill, then against conference rivals like Coastal, Winthrop, VMI, and Liberty.
Hop Ice Cream. Delicious and relatively affordable, as was most of the food. I’ll insert a plug here for more local color, especially since Asheville has such a wealth of food.
Bruce Freaking Hornsby. The man is a grammy-winning legend and to have him open up Kimmel is a credit to Eddie, who recruited Keith, and to Bruce himself. Apparantly Eddie and Bruce go way back to when Bruce attended a Norm Sloan basketball camp at N.C. State in the 60’sNow if only we could get Springsteen, we’d have the “Bruce” factor covered. It was not a traditional rendition of the anthem, but then again Asheville isn’t your traditional town/university, so I thought it was highly appropriate.
The Cons. The first one was obvious to anyone looking around the arena: too many Carolina fans. Obviously this is going to happen; just look at any State-Carolina game, etc. and you’ll see lots of different colors in the seats. Hopefully these fans came away impressed with the Bulldogs and will fill the stands later on in the season.
The Pep Band. I love these guys. I really do. The problem is, there’s too few of them. You could sometimes hear something beyond the rhythm section, but simply put there’s not enough brass, both high (trumpets) and low (trombones/tuba). But extra kudos to the bearded hippie playing the tambourine. That dude rules.
Sunday was a memorable experience and Asheville has a new home. Here’s hoping the excitement lasts throughout the season into the home stretch and (maybe) the Big South tournament.