Coppin takes panes to give new arena brighter outlook

March 10, 2009|By DAVID STEELE | DAVID STEELE,david.steele@baltsun.com

The last basketball game in its current on-campus arena is now in Coppin State's rearview mirror. Ahead is this week's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, but looming ever closer on the horizon is a bright, sunny vision of the future.

Literally bright and sunny. What excites the Coppin folks most about the new arena rising along Gwynns Falls Parkway? "Windows," said men's assistant coach and former player Larry Tucker.

It's a fairly standard amenity, one that the coaching offices in Coppin Center don't have. But after 22 years in a building that hosted one of America's best-known Cinderella programs yet can easily be mistaken for any other classroom building, the coaches can't wait for even the small treasures in store when the 4,100-seat arena at the new Physical Education Complex opens next fall.

"Life is always about moving forward. There are great memories here; we've had some great teams in here," men's coach Fang Mitchell said last week. "But new is new. Who can complain about that?"

The gleam of the new carries high hopes: that recruits will embrace it, students and other fans will be drawn to it and opposing teams will visit - thus breaking up some of the two-month virtual road trips for "contract" games for which the program is famous.

"We'll still play those games," Mitchell said, adding with a laugh, "but we might not be waiting until January to play at home."

Most of all, though, Coppin will reap a huge reward for a job well done under its legendary trying circumstances. It has accomplished so much with so little for so long, no one could begrudge it a massive upgrade of home court.

"Growing up in Baltimore, seeing Coppin and seeing what it's done, this is long overdue," said Tucker, a Dunbar graduate who played at Coppin from 1999 to 2003. "It's something that should have happened a long time ago. ... It won't be big, but it'll be new, and it'll be ours."

The indoor- and outdoor-sports complex has been on the state's agenda for much of the decade, as dates were pushed back and costs ballooned (the estimated final cost is $100 million).

"We had to wait and see," said women's coach Derek Brown, who was Mitchell's assistant for 13 years. "I put it out of my mind; I figured we'd be here [at Coppin Center] forever. And I like it here, but I thought we'd always be here."

Women's assistant coach Sidney Raikes, who starred on Mitchell's 1993 NCAA tournament team, said when he drives by admiring the building, "sometimes I stop traffic." At Coppin's homecoming festivities two weekends ago, he said: "We saw players who hadn't been here in a long time, and the first thing out of their mouths was, 'Wow, what is that?' You can't help but be interested."

Mitchell said: "The bottom line is I love the fact that we played here; it's my love for Coppin. But to see Coppin moving forward in a positive direction is great.

"And, again," he added, "it's new."

Windows and all.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

THE OLD AND THE NEW

Coppin Center ....................... Physical Education Complex

$6.1 million ........ Cost ....... $100 million

1987 ............. Completed ... Court to be finished November 2009

1,720 ............... Seating ....... 4,100

Three courts,

VIP room,

swimming pool,

four racquetball

courts and a dance studio ................... Amenities ....... Fitness center, auxiliary gymnasium, NCAA ............................................................ . . .. . . .. regulation swimming pool

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