Game 080: (6) Morgan State 77, (11) Maryland-Eastern Shore 56MEAC First Round
Monday, March 7, 2005
Arthur Ashe Center - Richmond, VA
In recent years, the fine city of Richmond, Virginia has hosted two Division I basketball tournaments - that of the Colonial Athletic Association, as well as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's gathering. During the first weekend in March, the CAA sets up shop in the Richmond Coliseum, while thousands of fans watch classic mid-major schools from up and down the seaboard knock each other out. Over the course of the following week, the historically black schools of the MEAC play out their bracket. Quarters, semis and the title game are contested at that quickly-aging downtown barn, to decidely more sparse crowds.
But there's a fuzzy overlap between the two timeframes. While the Colonial finishes its business, the 11-club MEAC is busy eliminating double-digit seeds in an opening round. Such a procedure requires an alternate venue needed for this procedure, and for the past several seasons, the first three MEAC games have been held at the Arthur Ashe Center on the north side of town.
It's not easy to find the Ashe Center, you have to squint your eyes, really be looking for it. Driving down Boulevard (no "the"), you might be distracted by the baseball stadium next door. It serves as the home of the AAA Richmond Braves is called The Diamond, but it's a tall concrete spire that overlooks a bleacherless green field. It's behind this discarded prop from 2001: A Space Odyssey
that you'll locate the AAC - it's the nondescript brick-shaped red box in the ballpark's shadow. There is no signage anywhere on the building that would indicate that there's a Division I basketball tournament going on inside.
The first thing you notice about the Ashe Center's interior is its playing surface. It's not made of wood, and it doesn't pretend to be made of wood - it's slick and smooth with no textural indentations whatsover. It sports a dull yellow color set off by a dark green center circle and lanes. Signs posted in the concourses tell the building's users that they should not
wear shoes that would scuff the non-slip playing surface, and those warnings appear to have been generally unheeded. Long black streaks, like brake-check tire marks, run lengthwise along the floor.
I asked a helpful gent at a MEAC hospitality desk what the floor was made out of. "I dunno, sir," he responded. "But whatever it is made of, there's a lot of ug-ly
in it. It's like they're playing space alien basketball up in here."
That science-fiction atmosphere extends to the rest of the building too. Exposed pipes, painted a lurid light green, slide along the ceiling like cartoon snakes. There are silver domed cage-lights of a very low wattage, and a blister-colored plastic running track that rings the court. It's a space-age pad alright, but this is a 21st Century dreamed of back in the Eighties, a future that mercifully never occurred.
The shame in all of this is that Richmond's greatest sporting citizen, the late great Arthur Ashe, has his name affixed to the building. The fallen tennis star presided over its opening back in 1981. The solidly built Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, N.Y., the main court of each August's U.S. Open, is a far more fitting tribute to the great man.
But the more time you spend at this Ashe - and your seven-dollar ticket is good for all games on the day's slate - the more the forlorn building evokes its share of empathy. It's not the building's fault it's a dump. Up in the far corner of the bleachers, among the discarded Sno-kone cups and Sprite cans, there are several folded-up programs for a 26th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day mass meeting held in January. The event, sponsored by the City of Richmond and the Richmond public school system, was held on January 19, 2004
There's a modicum of sadness, I guess, knowing that this may be the last hurrah for the Ashe Center as a tourney host. Earlier this year, the conference invited bids for future tournaments, and as of this writing it looks like the Raleigh, N.C. is the front-runner. Moving the first-round games from the AAC to the sparkling new RBC Center would truly be more than a small step for the MEAC.
After this game, I headed out into a balmy March afternoon in Virginia. Sure, there was one men's contest left in the session, but I was on my way to see the CAA final a few miles down the road, there at the Coliseum. Leaving at the same time as me was a large and largely perturbed man.
"Going already?" a yellow-coated guard, perhaps a friend, joked.
"I've had enough," he exhaled as he waddled towards the doorway. "The lights are giving me a headache. I'm gonna wait 'til they're downtown to watch any more games."
"But you just saw the worst team in America
," I anonymously offered, noting the RPI position of the Maryland-Eastern Shore
Hawks, who had been easily dispatched with a nine-minute second half stretch out of a 28-27 UMES lead, one that saw Morgan State
double its point total while the eleven-seed scored just seven. "You don't see that everyday."
"Sheet, man," said the disgruntled paying customer, emitting a snort. "I just saw the worst arena
Well, so much for empathy.Photo Gallery