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Column: Goodbye, Gampel

By Mike Peng
On March 7, 2014

They say in life, there are a few dates a man should always remember, like anniversaries and birthdays.
For me, one of them is April 5, 2011, and I will never forget it.
It was the day I fell in love with Gampel Pavilion.
On that rainy Tuesday, Kemba Walker and company got off a plane that brought them back from Houston with 2011 national championship trophy. A rally was being held at Gampel that afternoon and I was not going to miss it.
I was not a UConn student then. I went through the motions of commuting to a Division III school in New Jersey every day for two years while admiring UConn from afar, and a two-and-a-half hour drive was not going to stop me from celebrating with the Huskies.
I donned a UConn sweater that day to blend in with the actual students to enter the arena, and quickly became enthralled by the breathtaking atmosphere inside.
Coming from school where the basketball court is pretty much a glorified high school gym, Gampel might as well has been Madison Square Garden for me.
It was love at first sight.
As I sat there in section 123, listening to Jim Calhoun recap one of the most improbable title runs and watching Kemba get inducted into the Huskies of Honor alongside all the other UConn greats, I assured myself then and there that I would do whatever I could to become an official member of the Storrs community.
Fast-forward to almost three years later, and I'm still in love with Gampel. On Wednesday I watched Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander, the three remaining members on that 2011 title team I once drove over 130 miles to celebrate with, get honored on Senior Night.
The ceremony - short and sweet - was made for a few, but meant for hundreds and thousands.
Because on that night, those players were not the only ones who had their final games at Gampel Pavilion, so did I and all the other seniors who were there for the occasion.
Sure, most of us will come back to Storrs to catch games at some points in the future, but Wednesday night marked the final time that this year's seniors had access to the student section at Gampel, and there's something magical about that place.
Maybe it's the size of the section. Maybe it's the energy of the students. Or maybe it's even just the scarcity of the tickets for the place (we all know how we anticipate that email telling us we just won the lottery). Every one of those things is a reason why Gampel is such a unique college basketball venue.
But Gampel is not without its flaws. It doesn't have fancy strobe lights or spectacular sound systems like some other arenas. What it does have to make up for those things, however, is a crowd that can rival any others' in the country.
In my brief two years here, this place has already given me some memories that I would hold onto for a lifetime.Last season, there was Omar Calhoun hitting the game-tying 3-pointer against Georgetown to force overtime, then there was an emotional UConn squad following its last game of the season against Providence.

This year, it was the College GameDay atmosphere against Louisville, and of course, Napier's buzzer-beater over Florida.
Naturally, these memories pale in comparison to those who have been here all four years, but they don't change the fact that I love this arena just as much as the next senior who may have participated in the flash mob against Syracuse or witnessed Kemba's floater over Villanova.
Gampel is a place where history can be made every single year. The 11 national championship banners that hang on the rafters are testaments to that and the Huskies of Honor serves as a reminder as well.
Napier calls this arena "utopia," and I can think of no better word as a substitute.
There is no place else like Gampel, and there is no place else I'd rather watch a UConn game than at Gampel.
So for those who are fortunate to have a few years left at this place, enjoy it while you still can. You'll miss Gampel when you're gone.

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