UM's Convocation Center Takes Shape, Pleases Coaches

June 26, 2002

More than a month ago, the University of Miami Convocation Center was an open bowl without a roof. UM men’s and women’s basketball coaches Perry Clark and Ferne Labati had to walk in the shell of the facility wearing hard hats.

Tuesday evening, a roof sheltered the coaches, season-ticket holders, Coral Gables Mayor Don Selesnick and UM athletic director Paul Dee as they explored the inside of the $51 million facility during a private tour.

Despite heavy rain periods in June, construction of the 7,000-seat arena that will be home to both UM’s basketball programs is on schedule, according to David Touhey, general manager of the project.

The Convocation Center is expected to be completed by mid-December, with the Hurricanes men’s team playing host to North Carolina on Jan. 4. No date has been set for a women’s opener at the new arena.

Both coaches said the center already has positively impacted their recruiting efforts and helped in raising UM’s profile.

”We have North Carolina on our schedule next season,” Clark said. “We are adding Florida State, and we are going to start a series with University of Florida. All because now we have a facility that will be able to entertain those types of people and bring the whole community in to cheer like heck for the Canes.”

”When you look at programs like St. John’s or private schools Georgetown or DePaul, they all play on campus,” Clark added as he stood in the tunnel where his team would enter the court. He looked at the dusty ground that would soon be poured over with concrete to form the base of the arena floor.

“It’s more than just bringing basketball on campus. We have something on campus that you can call your own.”

Labati said the arena played a key role in the signing of two recruits: 5-9 guard/forward Tamara James of Dania and 6-2 guard/forward Tatjana Marincic of Mississauga, Ontario.

”It definitely put us over the top,” Labati said about taking the recruits to the project site during the fall. “We were competing against a Final Four team [for Marincic].”

The center, which will also be used for commencement and concerts, remains nameless because Ryder Systems pulled out as corporate sponsor in April. But Ryder said it will honor its commitment, made in 1994, to pay UM $9 million.

A sponsor is still sought, Dee said. ”We are fortunate that the people at Ryder gave the name back to us but also made the commitment,” he said. “We are at least in a secure position with the funds available to build the facility.”

By Marissa Silvera, Miami Herald