Last ball: 'Clam' actually aided recruiting

The last ball has dropped, and the run of what Ted Jeffries long ago referred to as "The Pregnant Clam" has ended. Okay, so Jeffries isn't so sure that he actually ever gave University Hall that label. More on that later.

UHall was the home of University of Virginia basketball for 41 seasons– including four glorious campaigns in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Ralph Sampson's presence made a pass to a home game hotter than a ticket to a Beatles' concert.

The effort to replace the building began while Sampson was still on Grounds. It's been ongoing for so long that it's become easy to overlook how important University Hall was to the development of the basketball program at UVA.

"Obviously, I came from New York, and had been going to Madison Square Garden and arenas of that nature. If the team was playing at Memorial Gym, I just don't think they would have gotten my attention," says Andrew Boninti, a co-captain of the 1974-1975 team who's now a real-estate developer in Charlottesville.

Indeed, when University Hall opened in 1965, it was "state of the art," Boninti remembers. And it helped lure a slew of big-time recruits, most notably Barry Parkhill, who long-time observers consider a bigger influence on the growth of UVA's basketball program than even Sampson.

"I went to visit and got the tour from Barry Parkhill and Jim Hobgood– who was from my high school. Frank DeWitt was from Pittsburgh, and was one of my heroes as a high-school player. They were coming off a year where Barry had made a shot against South Carolina that really propelled them and got fans and everybody totally into Virginia basketball," says Gus Gerard, himself a noteworthy recruit of the early UHall years.

Gerard– now a drug-treatment counselor in Houston– recalls the atmosphere at University Hall as being a part of the allure.

"I saw the enthusiasm there," Gerard says. "To be able to be a part of that and come in with four other freshmen who were pretty good high-school players, we knew we were going to set the tone for good recruits to come in on a regular basis."

And that they did– from Parkhill and Gerard to Marc Iavaroni, Wally Walker, Jeff Lamp, Lee Raker, Ralph Sampson, Rick Carlisle, Bryant Stith, Cory Alexander, Curtis Staples, Roger Mason and on down the line.

None of the old guard say they will miss the building they credit with helping take Virginia basketball to the next level.

"I'm not so sure I'll miss UHall– because the design of the new arena seems to be so fan-friendly," Boninti says of the soon-to-open John Paul Jones Arena, which will seat 15,000 for basketball, nearly double University Hall's 8,400-fan capacity.

"I have fond memories– but I don't think I'll miss the arena itself. It wasn't air-conditioned. It was time for it to take on another life. So bring on the new arena," Boninti says.

"I think the building has served its purpose," says Parkhill, now an associate athletics director at UVA, "but the building that we're going to be moving into is just so much better for basketball– and at the end of the day, it's going to have so much more character."

"UHall was outdated– and it didn't have the mystique of Cameron, where they could get away with having that old building down there," Gerard says, referring to Cameron Indoor Stadium, the home of Duke basketball since 1940.

"It was time," Gerard says. "I'm excited for the new arena. It's going to be sad, because UHall was something I grew up in and played in, and had some tremendous games in and had some awesome teammates. And so that will be sad. But I'm glad to see the progress and commitment they've made to building the new arena– to really get the basketball program moving forward."

As for the origins of "The Pregnant Clam," Jeffries explains, "My first visit to UHall was on my recruiting visit– the first place I came to when I got in town was UHall.

"I was supposed to meet Tom Perrin, the assistant coach at the time, at the ramp just outside the men's locker room. I've been quoted as saying as I pulled in that UHall looked like a pregnant clam," says the assistant director of the Virginia Athletics Foundation.

"I don't remember saying that, but I've heard it on more than one occasion, so I guess I must have."

Coach Dave Leitao waves goodbye after the 71-70 loss to Maryland March 5, the final UVA men's basketball game at University Hall.


Barry Parkhill goes up for two during UHall's heyday.