Visitors split on Paige

New arena’s corporate influences rub some fans the wrong way.
Friday, October 22, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:10 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Saturday’s Black and Gold game will be the first chance for most Missouri fans to see the inside of Paige Sports Arena, the Tigers’ new $75-million home, but the basketball arena is getting mixed reviews from some.

The Missouri athletic department held an open house at Paige Sports Arena on Oct. 13, for students. Similar public events will be held Monday though Wednesday.

“Obviously, it’s nice because it’s new,” said Annie Williams, an MU junior who attended the open house. “But I don’t feel like it will have the same atmosphere (as Hearnes Center). The fans won’t be on top of the court like they used to be, so I wonder if it will get as crazy. I guess I’ll have to see what it’s like when it’s full.”

Comparisons with Hearnes Center are inevitable, but not all reflect negatively on Paige Sports Arena.

“The Hearnes (Center) has been a great home for Missouri basketball for 32 years, and anytime there is a change there will be some folks that will miss the old home,” said Sam Fleury, assistant media information director for the MU athletic department. “However, there have been very few individuals that have expressed trepidation about the addition of the arena. As most people know that it will be an unbelievable resource for the university.”

While a change in the incline of seating might mean fewer fans will be over the court, it also means the climb to the seats should be less hazardous. Paige Sports Arena also offers more seats in its lower sections than Hearnes Center. Sixty percent of Paige Arena’s seats are in its lower bowl, compared to 30 percent in Hearnes Center.

Five things to watch for in the black and gold game

1 POINT GUARD: Two players are competing to start at point guard this season. Surprisingly, neither is Jimmy McKinney.

The two front runners are freshman Jason Horton and sophomore Spencer Laurie.

Horton scored 19.7 points per game his senior season at Cedar Hill in Dallas. Laurie playing sparingly in 21 games for the Tigers last year after being named Mr. Show-Me Basketball his senior year at Kickapoo High School in 2003.

2 BIG MEN: Arthur Johnson and Travon Bryant graduated, leaving a hole down low for the Tigers. There’s no shortage of replacements, though.

Linas Kleiza, who was on his way to being one of the best freshman post players in the nation last year, has recovered from the shoulder injury that ended his season.

Kevin Young returns for his third year, and Jeffrey Ferguson, the tallest player on the team at 6 feet 11 inches, is back after redshirting last season. Kalen Grimes, a 6-foot-8 freshman, also shows much promise.

3 INTERNATIONAL STYLE: Coach Quin Snyder, who is entering his sixth season with the Tigers, might use a more of an international style with players such as Kleiza, a native of Lithuania, attacking the basket from underneath and outside.

4 DISCIPLINE: In the past few years, the Tigers have lacked discipline. Turnovers, poor defense and other mental errors have plagued the Tigers.

New coaches Melvin Watkins and Jeff Meyer are doing their best to reverse the trend. In practice if players make a mental mistake or are lazy at all they are rewarded with a full court sprint.

5 FLYING HIGH: Fans can expect to see a little razzle-dazzle. One player to look out for is freshman Marshall Brown, nicknamed Little Rickey after former Missouri star Rickey Paulding. Senior guard Jason Conley also has the ability to throw down some spectacular dunks.

By: Charlie Slenker

Visibility was a key consideration in constructing Paige Sports Arena. According to a statement from the MU athletics department, Paige Sports Arena is designed to offer “students and fans comfortable seating and a state-of-the-art spectator experience, including exceptionally well-developed sight lines from every seat in the house.”

The arena’s large sky-light windows, on either end of its distinctive curved roof, allow natural light into the court area.

“The light quality on the floor is much better,” photographer Jenna Isaacson said to a colleague after a practice on Oct. 17. “Hearnes Center was a cave.”

Paige Sports Arena has a seating capacity of 15,601, including 26 private suites. Hearnes Center seats 13,611. Construction of the arena was funded by a $25 million donation from the Bill Laurie family, a $35 million construction bond from the state and an additional $15 million in private donations. The arena is named after Paige Laurie, daughter of Bill and Nancy Laurie. Nancy Laurie is the daughter of Wal-Mart co-founder Bud Walton.

With its suites and high-profile private donors, Paige Sports Arena betrays some corporate influence, a trait that rubs some fans the wrong way.

“Overall, I like it,” MU senior Thatcher Kamin said. “But I do think it is a disgrace that they have ‘Paige Sports Arena’ in big bold letters all around the floor, and ‘Norm Stewart Court’ is written in tiny little letters. Norm Stewart has done more for the Missouri basketball program than Paige Laurie ever will.”

Any hesitation in accepting Paige Sports Arena as the Tigers’ new home certainly has not been reflected in the ticket sales. Season tickets have been sold out since August, representing a 26 percent increase in sales over last season.

“People are blown away by its great sightlines, fan friendly seating and just the overall aesthetics of the building,” Fleury said. “The fact that the building is sold out of season tickets, over 1,800 more season tickets sold than last year, is an indicator that interest and excitement in regard to the Mizzou basketball program and the Paige (Sports Arena) are at a high level.”

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