Oct. 16, 2010
And all of that was before the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters ever hit the floor.
"This has been a great night for Auburn basketball, for Auburn University and the Auburn Family," said Scott Carr, Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs. "The purpose of the grand opening was to celebrate Auburn basketball and this wonderful new facility, and I think we succeeded."
Tickets to the event were free. Fans began lining up outside Auburn Arena an hour before the event began. The grand opening wasn't the first time Opelika dentist Dr. Brian Hollingsworth and his son, Brock, had seen Auburn Arena, but they were no less impressed on their second visit after checking out the arena during A-Day weekend.
"This facility is just top-notch," Hollingsworth said. "Having things packed in there a little tighter will create a better home-court advantage for the team and that will help out a lot. It's just such a wonderful facility. We're really just excited about the direction the program is going."
Brett Smith of Lineville was one of the first Auburn students waiting in line outside the north entrance, where kids and families enjoyed the Fan Fest and scored autographs from the men's and women's teams. He was also impressed.
"I think it's awesome," Smith said. "It's going to be a much better atmosphere than the old arena being here next to the dorms. Students are going to be much more involved than they were before. I think this event was a good idea to get the students involved early and get them excited about basketball season."
Auburn student Alex Reynolds said he's glad the new arena, which has a capacity of 9,121, is smaller and more intimate than Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
"I like that it's smaller than the old one, because I felt like everybody was drowned out by the empty seats over there (at Beard-Eaves)," Reynolds said. "I think this will be a lot more intimidating to the other teams coming in."
Bryan Miller, an Auburn student from Talladega, summed up his thoughts succinctly. "Bigger student section. New coach. New beginning."
Miller said students "will probably be more energetic at games because they are going to be closer to the action."
Mark Kantor, a 1987 graduate and Auburn resident, said he was "blown away" by the arena when he visited for a recent chamber of commerce function there. He brought his son, Caleb, back for Friday's festivities.
"It's unbelievable," Kantor said. "It's beautiful and everything is high-quality, very fan-friendly. Everything is so close. It's just a great environment to take your family to and go see a game. I think Auburn basketball will come up now just simply because the stadium is so awesome and we have a great coach."
Kantor said getting free tickets to the grand opening was an added bonus.
"You can't beat the Globetrotters, and I'm looking forward to seeing our new team," Kantor said. "I think it's great."
The Grand Opening featured some inspiring words from Barkley, the former Auburn All-American and NBA All-Star who said he's excited about the direction of the program under Coach Tony Barbee and the facility that present and future players would call home.
Barbee and Head Women's Basketball Coach Nell Fortner both said the arena would be a home-court advantage when fans show up and get loud.
"I think I just want to stand here and soak in all the people who are in this arena right now," Fortner said at mid-court. "I know what a great home-field advantage we have right across the street at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Let's bring that same home-court advantage right here to the new arena and have that same home-court advantage at every home game for men's and women's basketball. This arena was really built for the fans first, so you can have a great seat in the house, you can see the game, be on top of the game and get a feel for the game."
Barbee whipped the crowd into a frenzy when he asked the fans to see how loud the new arena could get.
"You are just as important to me as my leading scorer and my leading rebounder," Barbee said. "Just like I expect them to show up at every game, guess what? I expect you to be at every game. There is no other sport in college athletics like college basketball where you make such a huge difference. You are like a 10-point advantage, and we need you here every game."
Barbee promised a team that will play with "toughness, grittiness and heart." He asked fans to "make this the best home-court advantage in the country."
Carr, who organized the event, said the grand opening was "just the first of what will be many great nights in this fantastic venue."
"With this capacity crowd tonight, the fans already can see that there will be great energy, it will be loud, and they will be closer to the action than ever before in a facility that was built for basketball," Carr said. "One of our top goals as a department is to provide a great gameday experience for our fans. There is no doubt Auburn Arena will greatly enhance the gameday experience for both our men's and women's basketball programs, as well as our gymnastics team."