Column: Gampel is home
Published: Monday, October 7, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 7, 2013 22:10
Do you remember how you felt the first time you walked into Gampel Pavilion?
It is a special feeling walking into UConn’s sacred temple. For many, the first time is when they are 17 or 18, touring the campus or when they first arrive as a freshman.
For me, this special memory was created on Feb. 16, 1999, when my grandfather brought me to Storrs for the first time.
Most kids at that age – I was six at the time – grew up watching Barney, Rugrats, the usual. I grew up watching the Huskies. My parents still remind me what a nuisance five-year-old Tim was while watching games, not that things have changed much.
Standing on a bleacher in section 221, I got to see my heroes in person for the first time ever. On that night, I watched Jim Calhoun, Richard Hamilton, Jake Voskhul, Ricky Moore, Kevin Freeman, Souleymane Wane and my all-time favorite Husky, Khalid El-Amin, pull out a 77-64 win over Rutgers.
About two months later, I was back at Gampel. Unable to get seats because of the amount of people in the building, my parents allowed an UConn student to put me on his shoulders so I could watch Calhoun raise the national championship trophy.
Since then, not a year has passed when I did not make at least one trip, usually several, to campus for a game. I have seen some good ones too, even prior to my enrollment in the fall of 2010.
I was there when El-Amin hit a buzzer beater from the corner against West Virginia on Senior Night in 2000.
I was there when Hasheem Thabeet destroyed Marquette after UConn had lost three of its last four and sparked what became a 10-game winning streak late in 2008.
The next day, I was back at Gampel, watching the women run No. 3 North Carolina out of the gym.
My favorite Christmas gift ever was a three-game package that included tickets to the Texas game in 2010, when struggling UConn ran the then-No. 1 – even though they had just lost – Longhorns out of the building.
Even before I came to UConn, Gampel Pavilion was home.
I also went to numerous games at XL Center before enrolling at UConn, as it is only about 15 or 20 minutes from my house in Portland, compared to the 40-minute drive to Storrs. A couple times, we were lucky enough to be a couple rows off the floor. Other times, we watched from the nosebleeds, where the players look liked ants.
Even when I was a kid, I had no love for the XL Center, known in my yesteryears as the Hartford Civic Center. There was always a sense that it was crumbling from within and that it was as unfit for a college basketball atmosphere as Miley Cyrus is for that outfit she wore at some award show where she started dancing on some guy in a manner that reminded me why I am solely a country music fan.
Going to games in Hartford, my first thought was always, “I wish this game was at Gampel.”
Basically, I wish every game for both the men’s and women’s team could be played at Gampel.
But on Monday, that dream took another blow as UConn, Webster Bank Arena and Harbor Yard Sports and Entertainment announced an agreement for both teams to play one game in Bridgeport this season.
Most college basketball teams play in one arena, and it is usually on campus. UConn will now be playing at three – one on campus, one 35 minutes away and another 95 minutes away.
In some ways, I think the move is great. Fairfield County is home to over 30,000 UConn alumni, including Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who has worked tirelessly to bring the Huskies to Webster Bank Arena since Harbor Yard Sports and Entertainment took over the arena’s operations in 2011. Bringing games to Bridgeport at least once a year will keep alumni and donors happy and could be a chance to recognize the area’s tight ties with Connecticut’s flagship university. Both Finch and Athletic Director Warde Manuel noted the number of alumni in the area and the positive effect it could have in terms of donations.
Chris Smith, UConn’s all-time leading scorer in men’s basketball, is a native of Bridgeport and now coaches the Kolbe Cathedral boy’s basketball team in the city. The game on Dec. 28 against Eastern Washington could provide an opportunity to recognize key UConn alumni in the area, like Smith.
The timing of the games makes sense. If you are going to move games 95 minutes off campus, it may as well be over winter break, when the majority of students will be off campus. There will still be a student section for both games, but it will not create the same kind of atmosphere as at Gampel.