Last February was bittersweet for JMU basketball fans, as the Dukes said goodbye to the Convocation Center. The Atlantic Union Bank Center, which came to fruition over five years ago, was finally ready for its inaugural season when construction finished earlier this year.
The 2020-21 season was delayed because of COVID-19, but it finally got underway Nov. 25 with back-to-back home games for both the men’s and women’s teams. Both teams won their first games in the new arena, and a new era was officially born.
“It was definitely different [playing in the new arena],” sophomore forward Rayne Tucker said. “We’re used to the smaller building.”
The AUBC has a capacity of 8,500 — almost 2,000 more than the Convo. It also has many upgraded features in terms of technologies and facilities that are some of Tucker’s favorite things about the new arena.
“The training room, with all the new equipment,” Tucker said. “We [also] have a hot tub and cool tub, so for me that’s the best thing that there is.”
Women’s basketball head coach Sean O’Regan spoke highly of the new arena and its facilities in a press conference Dec. 7. He said he thinks it had more of an impact on the team than he realized or expected.
“There’s so many more easy resources for them,” O’Regan said. “The training room has many more toys than the last training room. Those are the things that I think are really helping us, whether we recognize it or not at times.”
Game days look very different because of COVID-19 restrictions. Both fans and the pep band aren’t allowed to attend games, which completely changes the atmosphere. O’Regan said it’s not the same without all the noise that’d typically accompany the team.
O’Regan, who was a manager for JMU as an undergraduate student before eventually returning and joining the coaching staff, has always appreciated the band.
“I’ve loved the band for as long as I’ve been playing here,” O’Regan said. “I think they’re part of our signature, so to speak, so I really miss them.”
Tucker also misses the band and said they provided extra support. Other features in the new arena that provide some support and encouragement are the jumbotron and the hype video that plays before the game.
“That hype video gets them going,” O’Regan said. “That’s something we don’t have at the Convo.”
Fans are an important part of the game and can help home teams win by creating a difficult environment for visiting teams to concentrate. Mark Byington, the new head coach for the men’s team, said he can’t wait for fans to be back because it’ll help game days feel normal again.
“Our players love playing in front of crowds, whether it’s [at] home or away,” Byington said at a press conference on Dec. 7. “Just not having that opportunity right now is frustrating.”
Although the new arena is a vast improvement on the Convocation Center, there are some things that just can’t be replicated in the bigger venue. One of the major changes is how much bigger and spread out everything is.
“I kind of miss how close everything was,” Tucker said. “The coaches’ offices [were close] to our locker room and how I could easily just go from the locker room to talk to one of the coaches.”
With the season started and the first games played in the new arena, players and coaches are excited for what its future holds for the Dukes. Hopefully, COVID-19 protocols will soon be a thing of the past, and the arena will reach its full potential.
“It is a beautiful place,” O’Regan said. “I’m really looking forward to getting it back and packing it in and seeing what kind of damage we can do with that.”
Contact Courtney Ryder at email@example.com. For more basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.