Grand Ol' Time at Grand Opening

The Tigers showed off their beautiful new Auburn Arena with a grand opening on Friday night.

Auburn, Ala.--Polished and sparkling for opening night, the new Auburn Arena was the star of show as the 2010-2011 Auburn men's and women's basketball teams went on display for the first time on Friday.

A full arena of 9,100 fans watched the ceremonies that included the first chance for many of the attendees to check out the $85 million facility.

"Isn't this arena something else," new men's coach Tony Barbee told the cheering crowd to which he issued a challenge. "You are just as important to me as my leading scorer and leading rebounder," he said. "Just like I am expecting them to show up for every game, I am expecting you to show up for every game.

"There is no other sport in college athletics like basketball where the fans can make such a huge difference," Barbee said. "Whether it is for a big SEC game or a non-conference games, you (fans) are worth a 10-point advantage and we need you here for every game."

One of the biggest cheers of the night came when 1980s Auburn star Charles Barkley was introduced. The retired NBA superstar and two-time Olympic gold medal winner told the crowd, "We have got a beautiful new building. I am so honored to be here tonight."

Charles Barkley talks to the crowd on Friday night.

Barkley, who said one of the best things he ever did in his life was make the decision to attend Auburn University, got the crowd revved up by expressing his dislike of Auburn's rival Alabama and mentioning he hoped to see a big win for the football Tigers vs. Arkansas on Saturday.

Women's basketball coach Nell Fortner, who led the Tigers to the 2008-2009 SEC Championship, received a big ovation, too, as she talked about her team as the Tigers showed skills drills for the fans.

Senior guard Alli Smalley participates in the three-point shooting contest.

The men's team was originally planning to do a short scrimmage, but Barbee said, "I don't need anybody else to get hurt." Instead the Tigers did drills layup and passing drills while showing off their dunking skills. His Tigers will practice twice on Saturday.

Barbee thanked the pep band, students, cheerleaders and Tiger Pause dance team for being at the event on Friday night and announced he will personally give away free books for a semester to a lucky student attending each home game this year.

One of the biggest cheers of the night came for Auburn women's team freshman forward Jassany Williams, who had a couple of two-hand, slam dunks for the crowd. The 6-2 forward is from Nova High in Davie, Fla.

Entertainment for the fans included a magic act and prior to taking the court Auburn players signed autographs for fans. The night concluded with the Harlem Globetrotters playing their long-time opponent, the Washington Generals.

Auburn director of athletics Jay Jacobs speaks at the grand opening ceremony on Friday.

Opening Night News and Notes:

Barkley said he wants to see Auburn return to the days when the Tigers were one of the top teams in the SEC sending star players to the NBA and making runs in the NCAA Tournament. During the past five seasons under Coach Jeff Lebo, who was fired this past spring, the Tigers did not get into the NCAA Tournament. "It has been very frustrating to be honest with you," Barkley said. "I mean no disrespect to Jeff Lebo, but it has been very frustrating to watch the team play the last couple of years. They haven't been very good. Everybody wants their college team to do well."

Barkley contends that no SEC team has sent more outstanding players into the pros than Auburn.

Barkley said fans need to be patient with their new head coach. "My personal opinion is that you should never judge a coach until after four years," he said. "Not just basketball, but any sport, but unfortunately we live in a talk radio world and they are going to start putting heat on you after one year or two years and that is unfortunate."

*Barkley said he is thrilled to see the Tigers in their beautiful new arena and out of Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. "That place was a dump when I played there in 1981," he said. "Clearly in 2011 it is really a dump. That is just the truth." Commenting on the Auburn Arena, Barkley said, "This is awesome."

Aubie, always a fan favorite, entertained the crowd.

*Former Tiger All-American and NBA guard, John Mengelt, attended the event.

*Fortner introduced former Tiger star Vickie Orr, an All-American whose Auburn jersey is retired. The coach also introduced Joe Ciampi, who was head coach of the Tigers for 25 years prior to Fortner taking over. Ciampi is the College Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

*The arena was designed to be very loud when full of fans and that was the case on Friday night.

*Fans who had attended games in the three previous homes for Auburn hoops--Alumni Gym, The Sports Arena and the coliseum--were introduced and got a big ovation.

*A street next to the new arena will be named Beard-Eaves Court to honor the names on the coliseum, which is expected to be demolished although a timetable has not been announced on when that will happen. Jeff Beard was a former athletic director and Joel Eaves was a men's baketball coach for the Tigers.

*When Fortner was talking about how she hoped that one day she would have players who could dunk the ball, on cue, 6-2 freshman Jassany Williams dunked in a layup drill and so did 6-8 sophomore center Pascale West to the delight of the crowd. Williams followed up her first dunk with a two-handed slam that drew another big roar.

*Women's team guards Morgan Toles and Morgan Jennings had a dribbling contest won by Toles as chosen by the crowd, which gave both players a big hand for their Globetrotters' style dribbling drills.

*The women's team had a three-point shooting tournament for students last week and the two finalists competed on Friday night with the winner receiving a 42-inch TV. The student who had Blanche Alverson as his partner defeated the student who had Alli Smalley as his partner.

*Tony Barbee gave away free books for a semester to a female student who had the lucky number for the night on her Auburn Ignited Card. The coach said that he will be doing it at each home game as a way of saying thanks to the students for their support.

*Scholarship donors were given champagne to celebrate the grand opening.

*Most of the fans stayed to watch the Globetrotters who were wearing tiny microphones so you could hear them talking during their gags.


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