March 15, 2005
Poor, poor Autry Court

I thought we could make it through the end of this basketball season without another bashing of the Rice Owls' home for hoops, but apparently not.

That Willis Wilson and Cristy McKinney have their basketball teams in the postseason for a second consecutive year speaks to their coaching ability and recruiting savvy.

According to Hawaii coach Riley Wallace, the fact Wilson has the Owls playing competitively qualifies as a minor miracle, considering the facilities he and McKinney have to work with namely that cozy, antiquated barn called Autry Court.

"I played in this place in 1960, and it was old then it seemed like," said Wallace following the Owls' 80-61 victory over the Rainbow Warriors on Feb. 27 at Autry. "Willis does a great job here, and unless Rice ever helps him by building an arena where he can recruit to, they'll never be able to compete much better than what they're doing right now because kids don't want to come and play in this box.

"I understand they can write a check anytime they wanted to."

Autry Court was already 10 years old when Wallace, then with Centenary, visited four decades ago. Aside from renovations, little has changed, but that's news to no one.


However, suggesting Rice or anyone affiliated with the university could "write a check" an assumption based on Rice's $3.3 billion endowment is equally unjust. Southern California will replace the Los Angeles Sports Arena with the 10,258-seat Galen Center in the summer of 2006 at a cost of $114 million not exactly small change. It will take a significant contribution on the part of some entity, but it is clear many are watching.

I don't have the nerve to defend Autry Court, since what Wallace says is essentially true. For what it's worth, as a relatively longtime fan, I do have a fondness for the place. You'll never be as close to the action anywhere else, and on those (sadly uncommon) times when it's full, it's noisy, jumping, energetic and just plain fun. But we've been promised a new "convocation center" which would include a new basketball stadium for some time now, and no one I know is marking their calendars with a date for the ribbon-cutting. Like the Houston advertising campaign says, we put up with Autry because it's worth it to us. Someday, maybe, it'll be worth it a little more. We'll be ready when that happens, assuming any of us are still around to see it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 15, 2005 to Other sports | TrackBack

I like Autry quite a bit as a fan and alum, but it is a glorified high school gym. The blue curtain, the other courts--the whole thing looks like something that would have outdated in 1950.

Posted by: Double B on March 15, 2005 10:58 PM

Wallace knows lousy venues. As the B-ball coach he was lucky; before they built the on-campus Stan Sheriff Center he had the city's Blaisdell Arena. The volleyball teams had to play in a sweatbox called Klum Gym, which the U is apparently so little pleased with that there are no photos on its website. It was something like the way Autry sounds.

Posted by: Linkmeister on March 16, 2005 12:37 AM

Since New York City does not really any large arenas other than Madison Square Garden, I would consider Autry Court (5,000 capacity) to be quite roomy compared to Wagner's Spiros Sports Center (capacity 1,650), Columbia's Levien Gym (capacity 3,200), Manhattan's Draddy Gymnasium (capacity allegedly 3,000, more like 2,500 max), and Fordham's Rose Hill Gym (capacity 3,200, and the oldest facility used in Division I basketball).

Nothing, however, beats Lehman College's (CUNY school in the Bronx) old gym. It held about 200 in a gym that was 20 feet short and 15 feet too narrow. Amazingly, this was where the first meetings of the UN were held in 1945.

Posted by: William Hughes on March 16, 2005 10:11 AM