First, we'll start off with a look at the brand new Prudential Center. Located in the heart of downtown Newark, "The Rock" as it has come to be known is the new home to the NHL's New Jersey Devils, and will also host home basketball games for fellow Big East member Seton Hall.
The arena opened in late October with a series of sold out concerts by legendary New Jersey-based rockers Bon Jovi, and has quickly become the crown jewel of the Garden State's biggest city.
The building's exterior features a larger than life 4,800 sq. ft. video screen that can be viewed from several blocks away. Passengers on the NJ Transit lines passing through town can get a clean look at the screen and the building from the train window as they make their way towards either New York City to the North, or Trenton to the South.
Inside the arena, the main concourse level is decked out with plush couches and all the comforts one would normally expect to find in the VIP room at a swanky big city night club. The concession stands are well-stocked with a variety of options from hot dogs to cheeseburgers to wraps for those who prefer a more health-concious meal while taking in the game. Across from two of the concession stands sit fully stocked lounge areas, complete with several televisions and plenty of seating for patrons. The arena also houses a 350 seat gourmet restaurant.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the building is the view. There does not look to be a bad seat in the house, with the court (or ice for Devils games) in full un-obstructed view of all 18,500 seats.
If you get the chance to check out "The Rock" do yourself a favor and go. Right now, it's hard to imagine a better all-around arena than the one West Virginia played in this past weekend.
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When I think of the word "Gazelle" I of course think of the animal that moves gracefully and seemingly without effort.
When I think of the words "Gazelle Group", the gracefulness does not come to mind, but the lack of effort certainly does.
For the second time in three seasons, West Virginia took part in a "tournament" arranged and facilitated by the Princeton, N.J.-based sports marketing firm. The Mountaineers played in the now-renamed Guardians Classic two years ago, and of course just completed a recent run in the Legends Classic.
While everyone I encountered from the group seemed nice, the impression that I left Newark with was that things simply did not run as smooth as one should expect for a group experienced in running tournaments for big-time college basketball.
First of all, can we really call it a tournament? The Mountaineers played two of the worst teams to ever enter the Coliseum last weekend in wiping out Division II Arkansas-Monticello and hapless Prairie View. Had either of those two teams won, they would have been unable to advance to Newark as the arrangements made by the Gazelle Group called for only the four hosts (WVU, Tennessee, Texas, and New Mexico State) to play on Thanksgiving weekend in Newark.
Second, the lack of organization at the latter end of the tournament was simply astounding. On Friday night, several members of the West Virginia media contingent remarked that they never received confirmation one way or the other on having their credentials for the final weekend approved. Credential requests were handled only by the Gazelle Group, who after receiving the faxes apparently neglected to notify those hoping to cover the event that they had indeed been approved. When you're planning to cover a road game, it would be nice to know that your going to have a way into the arena when you get there.
Though I shouldn't have been surprised given the string of disorganization prior to the games in New Jersey, I found myself completely mystified by the lack of common courtesies and basic necessities that were nowhere to be found this past weekend. Need a stat sheet? Good luck getting one from these folks. Trying to track down one of these handy-dandy printouts at halftime or after the game was about as easy to track down as an endangered species.
After Saturday's game, Prudential Center security refused to let reporters into the waiting area outside of the locker rooms for postgame player interviews, saying that they were told not to let anyone other than players or coaches back to the hallway under any circumstances. Luckily, WVU SID Bryan Messerly came to the rescue, but the man at the door continued to state his case even after player interviews had concluded. Of course had a member of the Gazelle Group staff been present during postgame or at least communicated with security about the postgame interview process, all of this could have been avoided.
Finally, it was evident that the event flew completely under the radar in Newark. Local TV stations were nowhere to be found at either Mountaineer game, even with a pair of Top 25 teams making up half of the "tournament" field. The attendance for Saturday's games probably could have been tallied on an abacus, and may have challenged Heinz Field for the lowest capacity to actual attendance ratio of any Division I sporting event this past weekend.
In fact, we might be better off changing the name of this event to the not-so-legendary Legends Classic.
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As for the basketball itself, the only thing I'll say is this: watch out for Rick Barnes and the Texas Longhorns. No, they no longer have Kevin Durant, but they may have the deadliest outside shooting team in the nation. When A.J. Abrams gets hot as he did on Friday night, the Longhorns can and will compete with anybody in the country.
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One final note. It was great to spend the weekend with my brother, Coleman, who accompanied me on the trip that also included taking in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and spending a couple of days in New York City. Coleman's byline normally appears in The Yellow Jacket student newspaper at West Virginia State University as a film critic and entertainment writer, but this weekend he was kind enough to lend his multi-media talents to BlueGoldNews.com as a contributing photographer, bringing subscribers exclusive images from West Virginia's games in the not-so-legendary Legends Classic.
Although he only has one weekend under his belt as a sports photographer, it's safe to say that my younger sibling has zoomed past his older brother's meager abilities in the point, click, and capture department.
Must have been all of those headlocks and elbow drops I unleashed on him while we were growing up.