Hurricanes feel right at home

It was already 15 minutes after the University of Miami basketball team had christened their new on-campus $48 million, 7,000-seat Convocation Center with a victory over the North Carolina. But Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty could not get over the atmosphere created by the 6,826 spectators-most clad in UM orange and green- that showed up for opening night at the new basketball arena in Coral Gables.

Despite a heartbreaking overtime loss at the hands of the Hurricanes, Doherty was impressed with the enthusiasm of a near sell-out crowd and the completed product in the middle of Coral Gables after visiting the Miami Arena on several occasions. The Hurricanes, which have played home games, at the Miami Convention Center, Dinner Key Auditorium, Coral Gables High, and the James L. Knight Center, moved to the Miami Arena in 1988.

But after years of planning and building the Hurricanes have a place they can call their own. Most of the people in attendance Saturday night came away giving the arena thumbs up, including the coach on the losing side. Doherty said the venue will have a positive effect on the UM basketball program in several different ways.

"I'm sure it will help (build a following)," said Doherty, when asked if the Convocation Center would eventually become a basketball mecca such as the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill, N.C. or Cameron Indoor Arena in Durham, N.C. "It's going to take a while to catch on down here but they'll get it. I've coached against Miami before, and they deserve better than 1,000 to 2,000 people in the stands. This place will distract opponents and attract recruits."

Doherty added that the proximity of the arena to dorms and its easy access would help in filling up the stands with stands and create the kind of atmosphere that the Hurricanes have been lacking for years.

"It's going to be a tough place to come in and play in," said Doherty.

The tenants feel right at home.

After playing in front of plenty of empty seats and low-key crowds at the Miami Arena for several seasons the University of Miami players were all elated to have a place of their own. Junior forward Darius Rice, recruited out of Jackson, Miss. in the summer of 2000, was so thrilled to be playing at the Convocation Center for the first time he had to settle down during the opening stages of the game. Rice said that the home crowd was the loudest he's ever heard for a Hurricanes' basketball game.

"It was exciting to be out here," said Rice. "Even during warm-ups I could sense that this was going to different. We never got that kind of feel at the Miami Arena. I know we had some big games there but they never felt like this."

Still, Rice had to catch himself.

"I was so juiced up in the first five minutes of the game that I tired myself out," said Rice. "I was so much into the game it was hard to come back down. The crowd was great."

Senior James Jones was encouraged by the turn out on opening night and also said that it was a far cry from the days at Miami Arena when fans could actually hear players talk on the court. And although it was more than he expected, Jones hopes it's the start of a ‘strong' home-court advantage for the Hurricanes.

"It was more than I expected to tell you the truth," said Jones. "I'm just elated to tell you the truth. This is a great advantage- with the fans behind you- and with the Big East schedule coming up we need any advantage we can get."

Miami coach Perry Clark was also pleased with the end results of the first night at the Convocation center and termed it a ‘great atmosphere created by a great basketball game'. But Clark added that any home-court advantage that the Hurricanes could develop would be determined by the crowd.

"The rims are the same, the length of the court is the same and the teams are the same," said Clark "What's going to make the difference is the crowd and the kind of atmosphere they can create."

Clark said that it's still to early to say whether or not the Hurricanes will develop a following.

"That is something we have to earn ourselves," said Clark. "We need to win some games."

The celebrities on hand also approved on the arena, including Rodriguez who made a 3.9 million donation to the baseball program last year.

"It's a beautiful place. Paul Dee (UM athletic director) and a lot of other people worked tirelessly to get this done. I commend them."

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