July 16, 2014
By Jon Cooper The Good Word
From the day McCamish Pavilion opened, the Georgia Tech athletic administration envisioned it as first-class facility worthy of hosting world-class events.
The WNBA’s Atlanta Dream agrees and has made the home arena for Yellow Jackets’ men’s and women’s basketball its second home. The Dream has played home games at McCamish on July 8 and 13, will host a third next Friday, the 25th.
The partnership has been win-win for the Dream, which is 2-0 in games on the Tech campus, and for the Institute.
Atlanta, the three-time Eastern Conference champion, gets to play in a conveniently located, state-of-the-art arena while its usual home, Philips Arena, is booked, and Georgia Tech get its name out in the community as it does its part to promote women’s basketball.
“We’re excited to do it,” said director of athletics Mike Bobinski, who was in attendance on Sunday, of the relationship with the Dream. “It’s been in a conversation for a couple of years now. It’s great to celebrate women’s basketball here in Atlanta. It’s a good thing for Georgia Tech, it’s a good thing for our women’s basketball program and it’s great to have another group of folks come to campus and experience McCamish Pavilion and be here at Georgia Tech. It’s only a good thing for us.”
Among those at McCamish Sunday evening were associate director of athletics/senior woman administrator Theresa Wenzel, women’s basketball head coach MaChelle Joseph, assistant coaches Deja Foster and M.L. Willis, who sat at courtside, as well as the team’s current star Kaela Davis and former point guard Dawnn Maye.
Everyone in attendance was treated to a rousing 81-79 Dream overtime victory against the Chicago Sky, during which the revved up crowd roared constantly, backing up P.A. announcer Vince Bailey. It was quite the fan experience.
“It sure is,” said Bobinski. “You have to get used to the way the game flows because you have the P.A. announcer screaming when the other team has the ball. It’s just a really different feel but it’s fun! Obviously, the WNBA has taken the approach to make it into an entertainment event and they do a really good job with it.”
“It’s amazing. It’s absolutely crazy,” agreed Davis. “It’s kind of a weird feel but it’s something we hope for our games. There’s just a great atmosphere in here so. I think it’s a great experience for everyone, even us. Just getting to sit here and watch the next level, it’s an amazing opportunity.”
Maye was as excited for Sasha Goodlett, a center for the visiting Chicago Sky, her teammate for two years (2010-12).
“I’m excited for her to get to play in McCamish because she didn’t get to play as a player,” she said. “Her senior year we were playing at Gwinnett. So now she actually gets the chance, get the feel of the new arena as a WNBA player.”
The final score notwithstanding, Goodlett, who is in her third WNBA season and first with the Sky (she played her first two seasons with the Indiana Fever). enjoyed her first taste of the arena.
“It’s gorgeous. It’s amazing. I wish we could play here every time we came to Atlanta,” said Goodlett, “I feel like this program has put in a lot of work and we deserve an arena like this. Just to know that we’re going to have so many fans come in and they’re going to be comfortable and have a good time and experience here at Tech is a wonderful thing.”
She admitted that coming in as the enemy isn’t necessarily as wonderful and that there is a noticeable difference in the atmosphere at McCamish versus that at the old Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
“It feels much more intense. You can feel the crowd a lot more. It feels like you’re surrounded and the focal point is the court,” she said. “In the old gym it was more scattered and at Philips it’s more scattered. It’s like watching a movie. Here it’s like a boxing match, where you’re on top of it, you get to see it and you get to yell and cheer and everything can be heard.”
Then there’s the theater lighting.
“Those lights are hot,” she said, with a laugh. “They’re a lot warmer than the other lights but I feel like it makes you want to play more. It kind of gives an exciting feel. It’s the same lighting that the [NBA’s Los Angeles] Lakers use so I feel like it makes you more excited to be there and more excited to play.”
The excitement and the fervor from the McCamish crowd was obvious to the Dream, who could feel the influence from the crowd.
“It definitely is a more intimate arena, where the noise is right on top of you so that definitely helps,” said Atlanta Assistant Coach Karleen Thompson. “These fans, are great and they’re going to be loud. That definitely pushed us through. They were definitely the sixth man.”
“I definitely like this arena. This definitely feels like home for us,” added guard Tiffany Hayes, who played against Tech with the Connecticut Huskies during AMC’s final season. “The fans came out and they did their thing. They’re making noise. They’re waving their hands. They’re supporting us and they helped us tonight.”
The fan base helped the most at the end of the game, when Chicago guards Allie Quigley then Epiphanny Prince, both better than 91 percent foul shooters, each missed crucial foul shots on consecutive trips to the line.
“At the end, when we needed [the fans] the most, they were making noise when the other team was shooting free throws,” Hayes said. “They were cheering us on so they definitely gave us a little bit more energy. Especially with us having [the back end of] a back-to-back, we definitely needed it.”
Sunday was Goodlett’s first game in McCamish Pavilion but it wasn’t her first time in it.
“Actually, my best friend, who’s a former Tech player, Shaday Word-Daniels now (formerly Shaday Woolcock), just got married over the weekend,” she said, “They had their reception here and it was beautiful. It was a really beautiful thing. So I feel like a lot of Georgia Tech weddings might be happening here from now on.”
As for the wedding between Georgia Tech and the Dream, Bobinski is optimistic about the years ahead.
“I’m not sure what their situation is with Philips, nor what our availability might be. We haven’t really gotten to that point yet, but that’s certainly in the realm of possibility,” he said. “Last year we actually were really close to doing some playoff games here. The dates just didn’t work out. From that conversation came the possibility this year and Philips Arena wasn’t available for this stretch of games. We had a conversation with the President and the ownership of the Dream and we’re glad to be able to finally work out an arrangement with them. They’ve practiced here for a couple of years now. So this is sort of the next step in the evolution.”
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