The sparkling new Health and Human Performance Complex at McNeese State University is everything the school and area fans could have asked for — just walking in it is jarring how much closer the seats are than in Burton Coliseum, and the game against Nicholls State last week that featured a large student section had a great atmosphere — something nearly impossible to create with all of the dead air in Burton Coliseum.
The opening of the arena should provide a boost to both McNeese hoops programs. In the short term, the building alone should provide a short-term attendance boost as locals check out the new building. The building could also provide a way for McNeese to increase the profile of the programs in the area and across the state by hosting high school events, such as the Martin Luther King Classic that was played at Xavier University Monday.
That annual event features six games with seven New Orleans schools and five top teams from around the state in Xavier’s oncampus Convocation Center.
Hamilton Christian head coach Dexter Washington said he would like to create a similar event here.
“You can play four or five games there and pack that place up,” he said. “Just like in New Orleans, where you have Lafayette Christian playing Bonnabel and Sophie B. Wright playing Walker. They always have McDonogh #35 play a game. Here you can have games with LaGrange, Washington-Marion, Hamilton Christian and Lake Charles College Prep. St. Louis might want to play a game. You can have girls games, too. The new arena makes McNeese basketball bigger than it was. You have kids wanting to go play there. It could help promote McNeese and help our community. You just had Washington-Marion play at LaGrange in a packed gym. That could fill up McNeese, too.”
Washington said Hamilton’s annual Showdown at the Lake tournament, which featured 12 teams that made the state tournament at Burton Coliseum last year, attracted coaches from 15 colleges this year. Staging a portion of the tournament at McNesse, as Lamar has done with the YMBL tournament in Beaumont, Texas, could give top players and coaches from around the state a look at McNeese’s new facility.
Other ideas that could be used to make the facility a bigger part of the community could be holding part or all of a city or parish tournament there, or a one- or two-day event featuring local high schools similar to the football jamboree that was held in Cowboy Stadium for years.
When Lafayette hosted the boys’ top 28 tournament at the Cajundome, it held a “Road to the Dome” series of regular season games matching the top teams from Acadiana on Monday nights, when there were few games on the schedule.
Washington said a similar series could work in Lake Charles, with the top teams around the state always looking for quality games.
“What you have now is a lot of the top teams are in the state are dominant in their districts and are not getting tested,” he said.
“They are looking for games against other top teams to stay sharp. Last week you had Scotlandville play Rayville at the Willis Reed Classic at Grambling. Maybe you could do something like that here and put Joe Dumars name on it. You can make the games. People want to play. It would help McNeese get a bigger profile and it would help promote our kids, schools and community.”