UT-Arlington getting off basketball stage

Texas-Arlington has played basketball on center stage for more

than 46 years. Literally.

Bleachers for about 600 fans behind the benches give Texas Hall

the feel of a small gym. But on the other side of the court, where

the front row is several feet below the court, there are about

2,700 theater seats – half on the floor and the rest in a

balcony.

”Practice was always interesting, having to get the balls off

the court and stuff like that,” Lady Mavericks sophomore Rosalyn

Thorpe said. ”Tried not to fall off the stage. It was something to

adjust to.”

But there were also plenty of times when the men’s and women’s

basketball teams were kicked off the stage by plays that had

nothing to do with pick-and-rolls or zone defenses. Maybe it was

the annual December production of ”The Nutcracker,” a concert, a

lecture or dance competitions.

Not anymore.

The Mavericks are exiting stage left and dropping the curtain on

their days at Texas Hall, which has been one of the most unique

settings in college basketball since opening in 1965.

They are leaving the drama behind and moving to the other side

of campus into the 7,000-seat College Park Center. The new $78

million facility – with two practice courts, spacious locker rooms

and a video room with plush leather seats – opens Wednesday night

with a men’s and women’s doubleheader against UT San Antonio.

New UT Arlington’s new athletic director Jim Baker, whose first

official day on the job is Wednesday, said the new arena was a

selling point for him to accept his new position. He oversaw $430

million in facilities upgrades while part of the University of

Texas athletic administration for more than 20 years.

”I didn’t know if I wanted to take this job or not, but once I

walked through here and got done, I said, `If they offer, I’m

taking it,”’ Baker said.

Women’s basketball coach Samantha Morrow, sitting next to Baker,

added: ”That’s what we want our recruits to feel, just like

that.”

Texas Hall was dubbed the best place to watch college basketball

by Sports Illustrated in 1997. But it never had that same appeal to

top recruits.

Former men’s coach Bob LeGrand used to have the door locked at

Texas Hall as an excuse not to take recruits inside the building

when they visited campus halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth and

has more than 33,000 students.

Current coach Scott Cross, who took the team to its only NCAA

tournament in 2008, has been on the Arlington campus since 1995. He

was a three-year letterman playing for the Mavericks before being

an assistant coach for eight seasons and then becoming their head

coach.

After more than 16 seasons of home games at Texas Hall, Cross’

last game there was a victory over Stephen F. Austin on Jan.

21.

”I wasn’t too sentimental,” Cross said. ”There’s been some

great memories there, but you can’t really be upset about burying

Texas Hall when you’re walking over here and see this facility. …

Our guys, you walk in here and you should feel like you need to be

a top 50 program in the country.”

The Mavericks (15-5, 7-0 Southland Conference) won their last

four games at Texas Hall, part of their current school-record

winning streak of 11 in a row. They will play their last four home

games this season at College Park Center, where they also get to

practice, go to study hall, lift weights and hang out in their own

dressing room – all under one roof.

With Texas Hall, the teams were forced to practice in four or

five different places each season. They’d watch film where they

could find space, sometimes projected on a wall with players

sitting on a floor. There was no real base for teammates to be

together when they weren’t at a game or practice.

”We’d have nowhere to go for camaraderie and the team

concept,” Morrow said. ”(Texas Hall) has been a detriment to

recruiting kids. Girls are all about pretty and frilly and all

that. So when you bring them into this facility, that’s why we were

able to get a couple of the kids that are going to come in next

year was because of this.”

The multipurpose auditorium opened in October 1965 with a

performance by trumpeter Louis Armstrong, nearly two months before

the first basketball game there. Texas Hall has also hosted

entertainers such as Neil Diamond, Kiss, Pat Boone and Jerry

Seinfeld, and events like the Miss Texas Pageant.

Now that Texas Hall is out of the sports business but still

hosting other events, school officials hope to renovate and restore

it as a top-class performing arts center.

For the Mavericks, the move into College Park Center is a

precursor to switching next season from the Southland Conference to

the WAC. Cross said those transitions make them a ”legit

basketball program.”

”I don’t know if we could have gotten into the WAC with Texas

Hall. This just showed that we’re committed to basketball and that

we’re ready to step it up,” Baker said. ”We’ll have the nicest

arena in the WAC. … For a 7,000-seat arena, I don’t think there’s

going to be one that’s going to be able to touch it in the

country.”

Just like there was no basketball court like the one on the

stage at Texas Hall.