Basketball kingdom needs proper court

April 20, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

THE FURTHER SYRACUSE advanced into the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament, the more publicity Baltimore received. Syracuse forward Carmelo Anthony was the hot subject, and Baltimore became a hot topic. There were stories about how Baltimore was and still is considered a hotbed of talent.

Maybe that's true, but if Baltimore is such a basketball hotbed, how come it seldom is the host for any major event? If Baltimore is such a haven, then why can't the city be the host to an NCAA men's regional? Where is the Nike All-Americacamp? Indianapolis. How about the major Five-Star camp? Outside Pittsburgh.

What does Baltimore have? Virtually nothing.

The hotbed is an iceberg when it comes to drawing national events. While local and state politicians debate the pros and cons about slot machines, they ought to take another look at one of Baltimore's natural resources: the production of great basketball players.

This city needs some type of sports arena. Let's not hear about any more renovations to the 12,000-seat 1st Mariner Arena, the oldest indoor facility among the nation's 40 largest sports markets. That place has had more name changes and facelifts than Elizabeth Taylor and Puff Daddy combined. The city needs a new house.

How about it, Mayor Martin O'Malley?

"If you look at the college recruiting, Baltimore has become a paradise," said Tony White, a spokesman for the mayor's office who is director of neighborhood communications. "We've been getting inquiries from business people and people on the streets. They want to know what the city is going to do to gain a higher profile. Getting these kind of events here is something that is on the radar screen."

Something needs to be done to enhance Baltimore's image.

San Antonio has been an NCAA site. The River Walk is great, but it takes only five minutes to walk through The Alamo. Other than that, the city is as dry as Texas. Syracuse was recently an NCAA site. What's in Syracuse? Snow. That's it. Two years ago, frigid, bare, bland and dark Minneapolis was the host of the Final Four. You walked straight from the hotel to the arena and then back to the hotel.

Baltimore has as many, if not more, tourist attractions than those cities. A new arena here doesn't have to have the capacity of 50,000 or more like The Alamodome in San Antonio or the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, but it could be an arena that holds anywhere from 13,000 to 19,000.

Boise, Idaho, was the host city for an opening-week NCAA tournament site: the BSU Pavilion has a capacity of 12,500. The Richmond Coliseum was a site with a capacity of 11,666. Tournament play has also been held at the Lawrence Joel Coliseum (14,665 capacity) in Winston-Salem, N.C., as well as the BI-LO Center (14,000) in Greenville, S.C.

But in Baltimore, which has great basketball tradition, we can't get these types of events. Just look at all the local players who have won NCAA championship rings. David Wingate has one, so does Reggie Williams. Juan Dixon earned one last year, and Anthony has already been fitted for the latest model.

We're in the city that may have produced the greatest high school basketball team during in the 1982-83 season with Muggsy Bogues, Reggie Williams and Reggie Lewis, all three eventually playing in the NBA.

We've even struck gold in the NBA, too, with Sam Cassell earning a ring with the Houston Rockets.

"This city would love to host a regional tournament, but the question is: Do we have a facility that meets NCAA requirements?" White said. "We had a chance for a new arena when we put a bid in for the Olympics, but since then some of our financial situations have forced us to relocate monies elsewhere. We would have to be very creative in our finances."

This is the time to be creative. Look around. There was a special lure about Camden Yards, but the novelty has worn off. With the Orioles' poor performances the past few seasons, attendance is going, going, going. ... The Ravens have done well since Brian Billick came to town in 1999, but they only play in Baltimore eight to 10 times a season.

What's left? The Blast. Fine, but still not a big-time draw.

Some type of multipurpose facility could attract various events such as NBA basketball, a hockey team or Olympic trials competition. But the main focus would be basketball. Both Nike and Adidas could have camps here. Bring on an NCAA subregional or regional. Conduct state playoffs in both girls and boys basketball. Hold various Amateur Athletic Union tournaments.

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