NEWS- Tip off- Games at JPJ open with a bang

To hear the postgame press conferences, one could have mistaken UVA's basketball coaches for directors of a Broadway opening.

"We must have gone through dress rehearsal a thousand times," said women's coach Debbie Ryan. "The crowd was tremendous," said her counterpart, Dave Leitao. 

The twin inaugural games at John Paul Jones Arena did have all the elements of a Great White Way production: a swelling score, fancy footwork, an array of light and sound effects, plenty of drama– and a happy ending. 

With the women's team first vanquishing in-state foe Old Dominion 92-72 in the afternoon, and the men coming back from 19 points down to upset #10 Arizona 93-90, November 12, 2006 is sure to be an evening fans will not soon forget.

 Though the wins sent the UVA faithful home happy, the night was already unforgettable before the opening tip, as the multimedia extravaganza lived up to the $130 million hype. 

Seats rattled with the bass thump of the new sound system, and images of UVA players flashed across the new "'Hoo Vision" scoreboard amid a laser light show. The players themselves came running onto the court through a billow of smoke.

In a short movie featuring cameos of Leitao, UVA women's great Wendy Palmer, and even John Paul Jones himself, a computer animated Cavalier mascot fought the opposing team's mascot for the game ball. Once the digitized likeness of "Cav Man" had secured the ball, a real life version rappelled from the rafters to deliver it to UVA president John Casteen, who triumphantly thrust it skyward to begin the new era in Virginia basketball.

"The minute we came through the smoke I got chills," says Ryan. "You feel like this is Disney World, and you're on the wildest ride."

Of course, the most important part of the new facility is the fans themselves. And during the men's game, the capacity crowd of 15,219 pumped the decibel level to new heights and noise Leitao described as "not being able to hear yourself think." 

Arizona coach Lute Olson admitted the UVA fans proved problematic for his squad. "The crowd is really into the game," he says. "No question they helped them get back into it."

No matter where fans sat in the new digs, it wasn't difficult to feel part of the action. Fans in the student section stood throughout the game, and, given the steep angle, those in the top row of the upper deck had almost a bird's eye view of the court.

"I was way up in the nosebleed seats, and I could still see beautifully," said Brenda Todd.

And then there were the audio-visual touches that brought the game up close and personal for everyone, from the splashy (a multi-camera camera shoot that looked like a television broadcast on 'Hoo Vision) to the subtle (microphones in both rims to amplify every brick and swish). 

As gripping as the games were, the evening's most emotional moment came during halftime of the women's game with the christening of the Debbie Ryan Women's Locker Room. The honor came as a complete surprise to Ryan.

"This is really hard for me," Ryan told fans, choking back tears. "I'm just glad I have a chance to be here in this arena and to be here with you."

After the game, Ryan explained that the moment was bittersweet.

"My mom couldn't be here today. She was in a car accident four or five weeks ago in California," she said. "I had no idea why she was so upset when she told me she couldn't come, and now I know. I'm very touched."

Halftime of the men's contest marked the naming of Barry Parkhill Court (a practice facility), the Wally Walker Virginia Basketball Hall of Fame, and a Terry Holland Locker Room. 

Jubilant fans gave the JPJ universally high marks– and each had a favorite aspect.

"The seats are wider and more comfortable, the bathrooms are clean, and there's plenty of them," said Arlene Buynak.

"The lights are just beautiful," Jesse Williams gushed. 

"The flames on the sides of the court during the introductions were amazing," said Chris Claytor.

"Even the general admission seats have a great view on the lower level," noted Melvin Grady. "It's very inviting."

After such an auspicious beginning, UVA fans can only hope that style points will translate into game points.

UVA's Lyndra Littles wins the opening tip-off of the very first regular season game at John Paul Jones Arena.

Cavalier guard Mamadi Diane gets airborne in the first half.  He would go on to score a career high 25 points to earn ACC Player of the Week honors.

Even when the 'Hoos were down by 19 points, the student section was on its feet.