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What Is It About That Place?

The Kentucky Wildcats venture southward to Nashville Saturday where they will battle SEC East rival Vanderbilt in the ancient infamous arena known as Memorial Gymnasium.

Since Memorial Gym is more of a museum then a basketball arena, I thought it would be fun to look at the history of the SEC’s oldest homecourt advantage.

Memorial Gymnasium

(from Wikipedia)

Location: 25th Ave South & Vanderbilt Place  Nashville, TN
Opened: December 6, 1952
Capacity: 14,168
Architect and Cost:Edwin Keeble, $1.5 million

What’s up with that design?

The defining characteristic of Memorial Gym is not its age, but rather its awkward design.

The gym was built in the early 1950s and was dedicated as the campus memorial to students and alumni killed in World War II. During this time, there was a debate within the university’s community about whether the school should de-empahasize intercollegiate athletics. The design of the structure was actually the result of a compromise between the debating parties. The end result was a gymnasium that was built to hold 8,000 or so seats, but that would easily be adaptable to other uses.

The gymnasium floor was built up above its surroundings, in the design of a stage. The out of bounds area was designed to be very wide, which necessitated the placement of the benches at the end of the court.  Even the actual basketball goals are quirky as each is anchored by two far-reaching beams attached to support columns, with support cables stretching from the gym’s ceiling.

Some fans describe the experience of watching a game at Memorial Gym to that of watching a live movie.

The experience is not so magical for opposing players and coaches.

Former Kentucky Wildcat Josh Carrier describes the experience as follows:

“Playing at Vanderbilt is definitely a home court advantage. The backdrop is like no other gym in the SEC. They always have a great fan environment that makes it tough. If Vandy makes shots, they are always a formidable opponent in Memorial Gym.”

Allen Edwards, who played for Kentucky during the magical run in the mid-1990’s, adds, “It is just so different because of the benches and checking into the game. But, it is a great road atmosphere.”

I talked to Morehead State head coach Donnie Tyndall tonight to get a coach’s perspective on the venue. Tyndall was the head coach last season when MSU visited Nashville and he coached there several times as an assistant to John Brady at LSU. Here are his thoughts on Memorial Gymnasium:

“First off, it is just a very unique gym and I don’t think there’s anything like it in college basketball. Add to that the fact that Vandy’s fans are some of the best in the SEC and it makes it extremely advantageous for Vanderbilt. It is next to impossible to communicate with your team there, particularly when you are on the far end. You cannot call out ball screens and other assignments like you normally would and it is always loud. Your team can never hear you. In preparing for that game, would often bring a loud boombox into practice and blast music as loud as possible. The night before the game, we’d practice there by standing at the far end of the gym away from the players and calling out plays and assignments. It is just a unique place and gives Vanderbilt a huge homecourt advantage.”

Kentucky has certainly had its fair share of tough times at Vanderbilt in the past 8 visits. During that time, the Wildcats are 2-6, including a 93-52 shilacking in the 2008 season. In that game, Kentucky scored 11 first half points.

Let’s hope we can start a winning trend Saturday.

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Article written by Anthony Wireman