Already, Comcast Center is feeling like home

Terps' new arena draws rave reviews for facilities, potential for uniqueness

February 25, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Other than a few water problems - which most in the state can relate to these days - the University of Maryland's $108 million Comcast Center has gotten positive reviews and possesses the potential to become one of the more distinctive arenas in college basketball.

Senior Night tonight also will mark the end of the Terps' first season in their new home. The facility was still a work in progress when it opened in October, but the consensus is a thumbs up for a project that replaced Cole Field House, a campus landmark since 1955.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Comcast "beautiful."

"Given how highly Cole was regarded, to me, not receiving anything but compliments is remarkable," said Joe Hull, a senior associate athletic director at Maryland. "We began the project with a list of 8,000 items that needed to be considered. We're down to less than 50 now."

The floor on the hallway that leads to the auxiliary gym will be tiled. Seven rows up "The Wall," the student section that is the visitors' shooting background in the second half, water is seeping in. That will be corrected in the offseason. There's nowhere for water to go once it splashes out of the whirlpools in the trainer's room, where there are no floor drains.

Men's basketball trainer J.J. Bush, however, raves about the court itself and voices a common theme: When Cole was being celebrated last year, its shortcomings were overlooked.

"The floor at Cole was basically laid over a slab of concrete," said Bush, who has treated Maryland athletes since 1972. "This one is beautiful, 8 inches of foam underneath and it gives a lot. It's much easier on legs. When you put 14,500 people in Cole, it got nice and warm. But on days when it was snowing and we were in there by ourselves, it would be cold out on that floor."

Juan Dixon and Drew Nicholas had to spend late nights at Cole just to master the rims.

"I didn't like Cole's rims," Nicholas said. "They were kind of stiff. If you hit the rim, it didn't have too much of a chance. Here - especially Virginia - anything that hits the rim has a chance to go in."

The Cavaliers made 49.1 percent of their field-goal attempts Feb. 6 against the Terps, who lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in field-goal percentage.

"What I don't miss about Cole is pipes breaking, the roof leaking, roaches, right down the line," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.

The lone concourse at Cole was 10 feet wide. Comcast has 10 times as many restrooms and three times as many concession stands. It has the amenities of a professional arena, but Williams was concerned about ambience. In addition to "The Wall," students occupy the first 10 rows around the court, other than the benches and seats on the other sideline and baselines.

Drew Vetter, a 19-year-old government and politics major, has earned enough points in the student ticketing system that he is typically in the first group allowed to enter, and he often sits just behind radio announcer Johnny Holliday.

"I was leery going into Comcast, but it's almost like an instant tradition," Vetter said. "We've got plastic chairs to bang on and `The Wall.' I was at a student government conference in Texas and talked to a couple of guys from Pitt. They remarked how cool `The Wall' is. I'm happy, and that's the general consensus of students. We're close to the floor, and the place gets loud."

The ceiling was designed with concert acoustics in mind. Comcast isn't supposed to get as loud, but Ed Nordberg, a retired Baltimore County teacher, heard otherwise during the Jan. 18 win over Duke.

"My daughter-in-law had to take my 1-year-old granddaughter, Charlotte, out on the concourse, she was so upset by the noise," Nordberg said. "My wife, Carol, was a student here when Cole opened, and went to the first game [in 1955]. Last year, we went to the final game. I loved the place, but I never ate there at halftime. I was afraid if I got in line, I would miss the start of the second half."

For all of its modern touches, Comcast gives older fans the photo displays on the Walk of Fame. By a main entrance, there's room to linger near the Sears Trophy, spoils from Maryland's 2002 NCAA title.

"Cole was as good a place as there was in the country, because of the crowd, the history," Williams said. "We have to create our own history here."

Terps tonight

Matchup:Clemson (15-8) at No. 14 Maryland (17-7)

Site:Comcast Center, College Park

Time:7

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line:Maryland by 17

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