A Work in Progress

The doors to the University of Miami's newborn baby swung open Saturday night as the $48 million, 7,000-seat on-campus Convocation Center made its debut in grand fashion with the Hurricanes men's basketball outlasting the North Carolina Tar Heels in overtime.

And after what UM football fans had to swallow the night before in the national championship game any little bit of good news was probably welcomed.

Obviously being able to walk away smiling after the Hurricanes come-from-behind victory over a storied program on night No. 1 at the new digs was a good form of consolation- if any- for much of the 6,826 pain-stricken fans, most clad in orange and green, that bothered to show up at the arena and not field judge Terry Porter's house.

But just like the football players fell one yard short of delivering another national championship, the pale-looking Convocation Center is still a work in progress- local basketball fans included. There's no doubt that making the place an intimidating venue for the opposition to visit will take a while- remember this is the same Coral Gables fan base that stayed away from the Miami Arena for years like if it was covered in a stench- but this night felt like a middle of the week game against Lehigh at the pink elephant in Overtown.

Alright, so it's somewhat understandable that the Miami supporters would be down in the dumps less than 12 hours after the football team had the national championship trophy snatched from underneath their facemasks. But regardless the school could have pulled out a little more than they did considering what was taking place.

Sure was nice to see South Florida homeboy and walking credit union Alex Rodriguez (and his lovely wife Cynthia, of course) sitting in the front row, Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor lounging around and former UM receiver Lamar Thomas at courtside, adding a sprinkle of celebrity to an otherwise plain evening. Not to mention the unfinished floors and the empty Kosar's Kids section in the upper deck. The school's athletic department deemed the game a complete sell out despite 174 no-shows. Although it felt like there was much more missing for an occasion of such magnitude.

Opening night at any arena in the country should be a cause for celebration and for those individuals that have played a role in the program to be lauded in some form or another by the school. Where was Bill Foster? Not a single word or mention of the man who took over the Hurricanes in 1985, 14 years after the program had been eliminated. Heck, where was Hall of Famer Rick Barry, who starred at UM in the mid 60's and is perhaps the greatest player in the program's history. Not a word on Bruce Hale, Leonard Hamilton, Eric Brown, Tito Hartford and John Salmons, who as coaches or players all had an impact on what the program is today. Nothing on the Hurricanes of yesteryear and the true architects of UM basketball.

Instead we were treated to plenty of local propaganda courtesy of Miami athletic director Paul Dee and a lot of his deep-pocketed friends, including Rodriguez who was honored at halfcourt during a timeout. If that wasn't bad enough all the pre-game festivities consisted of were band performances, a lot of videos, a ceremonial first tip and player introductions. And by the way, bring out UM football coach Larry Coker at halftime was a nice gesture. But there was probably something else they could have done. I mean we've heard from Coker plenty by now. As for the crowd it was subdued in typical Miami fashion. The arena had the feel of a golf tournament right up until Miami forward Darius Rice drilled a corner three-pointer to send the game into overtime. It will definitely take some time for the chardonnay, crab-cake locals jump out of their suits – with cellphones in hand- and get crazy about college basketball in this town. There was just a ho-hum feel to the entire game, Fiesta Bowl hangover not with standing. But despite all that the place is definitely an up grade over the Miami Arena.

Aside from having to sit directly behind one of the baskets it was a pleasant experience to watch a game. The seats are right on top of the court, which always makes for a good view. Unlike the Miami Arena, where the upper level was covered to hide unoccupied seats, the Convocation Center sparkles with plenty of skyboxes and fan-friendly concession stands throughout the arena (with televisions so nobody misses the action taking place).

A couple of things though: One, fans should have a better choice of food than just your typical pizza, hamburger, hot dog or chicken sandwich. It would have been nice to see the university come to terms with an upscale food chain to give their customers an upgrade in eateries. Secondly, its ridiculous that members of the media are now being asked to dish out $5 to have dinner in the press lounge, which consists of hamburgers, hot dogs, pasta salad and cookies- the same selection we were always offered in the old arena, only at no charge.

But I guess they need to finish painting an otherwise fabulous place for basketball.

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