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Basketball Guide 2014: McKale Center is new, improved

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Rebecca Marie Sasnett

UA basketball fans fill McKale Center before Arizona’s annual Red-Blue Game on Oct. 18. McKale Center underwent $30 million renovations and finally opened to full capacity, just in time for the men’s basketball season.

The shape of McKale Center is the same, but that’s about where the similarities end.

After it was built in 1973 for $8.1 million, its current $30-million renovation has changed almost everything in the 41-year-old facility.

McKale Center is named after J.F. “Pop” McKale, who served as Arizona’s coach and athletic director from 1914 to 1957. The facility opened in February 1973.

For almost a year, after the Wildcats played at Michigan, UA officials have promised McKale Center will feel like a new facility after the renovations.

“Coaching in it, playing in it, you get the sense that something that was special has somehow become even more special,” Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller said.

After months of frantic construction, McKale Center hosted its first event with its new 14,655-seat capacity in the season opener on Nov. 14.

“You look at how it feels as a new building and how our crowd is seemingly even more on top of you than it used to be,” Miller said. “So, it’s a very, very exciting time to be a part of this program, and the thanks goes out to hundreds of people who helped contribute and mostly 14,000-plus fans who come to all of our games.”

The renovation added a new video board; replaced all the seats; upgraded the concessions, restrooms and locker rooms; and added handrails, new lighting and a new court.

The new scoreboard, which is more than two-and-half times larger than the old one, has four 19-by-11 video screens that total 836 square feet, in addition to LED rings.

The scoreboard debuted last season, just in time for Pac-12 Conference play, and most of the new seats were ready for volleyball this season. The building wasn’t at full capacity for Arizona’s exhibition game, though, and for the season opener, there was a lot of caution tape.

“It’s ridiculous; I love it,” Arizona guard Gabe York said about the new McKale Center.

Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne devoted 288 words in his most recent Wildcat Wednesday email just to the new facility’s lights.

McKale Center is one of the first college facilities in the country to feature 100 percent LED lighting. Byrne wrote that 84 “NBA-quality LED spotlights” replaced 160 fluorescent floodlights and is similar to the set up of the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Byrne also wrote that the lights will save 240,000 kilowatt-hours per year.

York said the lights make it look like a different arena.

The renovation was funded by donations, most notably the $6 million lead gift from Cole and Jeannie Davis, the $1 million gift from George Kalil and the $1 million from Steve and Margot Kerr.

Miller said it is a very exciting time for the program.

“I think everybody embraced the new McKale,” Miller said.

— Luke Della contributed reporting to this article

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