I kicked a guy in the back.
He then turned around and elbowed me in the knee.
No, we weren’t fighting. We were getting settled in before the Connecticut-Ohio State women’s basketball game yesterday.
Apologies were exchanged. I said we were even.
Welcome to Gampel Pavilion.
I married into rooting for the Connecticut women, and to a lesser extent the men, but Syracuse will always be No. 1 for me in that regard.
I didn’t quite get in on the ground floor — the win over Tennessee that announced the program had arrived and the first national championship were in 1995, five years before we started dating — but the elevator was still on the way up.
The local public TV station, WCPT, broadcast and later streamed — and this was the days before streaming was everywhere — all the games that weren’t on national TV. The volunteers and station employees who asked for donations during the pledge breaks were their own band of characters.
Most of the home games were at Gampel then, save for some of the big ones at what is now the XL Center in Hartford. It’s a bit of a hike to Storrs, which is in the suburbs of the middle of nowhere, but on the way to and from Gampel, we’d listen to the pre- and post-game shows on WTIC.
Parking was where you could get it; my wife had a “secret spot” at the edge of campus. Sure, it was a little bit of a walk, but there were always spaces, and walking across a New England college campus isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Now, the UConn women are more-or-less permanent residents of basketball’s penthouse. The only loss of the year being on a last-second shot in the national semifinals is a disappointment; it happening two years in a row is a relative disaster.
Before the game, the PA announcer called Storrs “the basketball capital of the world” (assuming the university’s insistence on propping up a wretched football program doesn’t ruin it), and Gampel has so many banners for championships won and honors earned that it’s running out of space.
Yesterday’s ceremony was for Chris Dailey, the associate head coach who was enshrined in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame earlier this year.
In fact, the program is so successful, that it’s an easy target for hot-take and cheap-shot artists. (All I’m saying is that no one ever asks if dominant men are bad for their sports.)
The “secret spot” isn’t so secret, and everything seems to be permit parking now. My wife hates parking garages, and the one at UConn takes forever to get out of, so she parked in a lot on the other side of the building from the “secret” lot.
We didn’t get towed.
WCPT has been replaced by SNY out of New York, and streaming is through ESPN, the merry band of pledge-breakers replaced by repetitive ads and a halftime segment that I’ll probably have just about memorized by February.
The radio home has moved, too, also to ESPN.
And Gampel itself seems almost older than its 28 years, which is strange, since we saw the Huskies win a national title in a building, the Georgia Dome, that not only opened two years later, in 1992, but has already been torn down.
But Gampel is a college basketball arena, not an arena that sometimes hosts college basketball.
It’s part of a campus, not part of a downtown, or part of a casino. Both have their place, and I enjoy both, but it’s absolutely something different.
It’s cramped — especially when people wear their winter coats, and used to be really cramped when the Huskies sold out every game — and the benches aren’t particularly comfortable, but there’s not a bad seat to be had.
Just beware of the occasional misplaced elbow, knee or foot.