Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Finally, End of the Road; after Nearly a Year, UF Opens Modernized Basketball Arena This Week

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Finally, End of the Road; after Nearly a Year, UF Opens Modernized Basketball Arena This Week

Article excerpt

Byline: Garry Smits

GAINESVILLE | University of Florida basketball coach Mike White has been like many PGA Tour golfers who won't go to the Augusta National Golf Club unless they actually qualify for the Masters.

Despite opportunities to visit the now-completed Exatech Arena at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center at various stages of its $64.5 million renovation project, White said he won't step into the building until Tuesday - the day before the Gators play host to Little Rock in the first athletic competition that will be held in the new digs.

Even White's staff has seen the inside of the building. But he's asked his players not to go in until the game is at hand and White has exerted his own brand of self-discipline in not getting a peek at the main floor or the locker rooms.

"Our focus is on Charlotte," White said of the opponent UF defeated on Saturday at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, the last of 17 consecutive games away from Gainesville the Gators have played since last season - 11 of them this season. "I haven't been in there. I've seen different stuff posted [on the school's athletic website]. My staff went over there. They were blown away. Maybe a [player] or two has snuck over but I'd like to think their focus is on the right thing. We'll get there and it will be exciting when it happens."

And what will White and his players see when they finally do walk through the doors?

Florida executive associate athletic director for internal affairs Chip Howard borrowed White's phrasing.

"It will blow people away," Howard said.

Visitors will be greeted with a more modern look at the entrance. The actual seating capacity has been reduced from nearly 12,000 to 10,133 to accommodate chair-back seating. There are also club seats and 12 four-seat boxes. The concession areas and bathrooms have been expanded.

Howard said the biggest difference will be a $2 million videoboard will hang over center court, with four more video boards in each corner that cost a combined $1.5 million

The sound system has been upgraded. Given the fact that the Gators last played a home game 295 days ago, the expected sell-out crowd on Wednesday night is likely to add to the noise level.

"The sound system and the video boards are what I think people are anticipating the most," Howard said. "The fan experience will be heard and felt. We've had one of the best home-court advantages in the country over the years and I think that's only going to get better."

There are some pricy areas that most fans will see only from a distance. The 530 club seats sekk for $1,500. For $12,500 for the season, 50 fans can buy a spot in the Courtside Club, a private viewing and dining area.

Howard said those who have seen blueprints and artist renditions to this point will still be surprised. …

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