Nov. 13, 2009
by Pete Spiewak '10
The opening of the state-of-the-art Hagan Arena ushers in a new era of Saint Joseph's University basketball.
After 59 seasons in the legendary Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse and one season in their "home away from home" at The Palestra, the Hawks' home court has seen a first-class facelift as the interior of the gymnasium was completely renovated during a 16-month period, adding 1,000 seats in the expansion, and bringing the building's capacity to 4,200.
But that is just the beginning.
The Ramsay Basketball Center, named for Saint Joseph's coaching icon Jack Ramsay, is a two-story, 20,000-square foot addition to the arena that is the home to spacious locker rooms for both the men's and women's teams, players' lounges, a film room, and coaches' offices. Needless to say, the Ramsay Center will give the Hawks new luxuries that they are not accustomed to.
The Fieldhouse was beloved by the Hawk faithful as both an intimate and intense setting to watch a basketball game, but the building's facilities, like the locker rooms and coaches' offices, were undersized and dated. The gym itself was a terrific venue right up until the last game on March 6, 2008, when the Hawks upset nationally-ranked Xavier to close the Fieldhouse in fashion, but it was the "bells and whistles," as head coach Phil Martelli put it, that needed a major upgrade.
For years, Martelli's players had to duck when walking into his office. Recruits touring the Fieldhouse may have more impressive facilities at their high schools compared to the cramped locker rooms and coaches' offices on Hawk Hill.
Those days are no longer.
Martelli, the 2004 National Coach of the Year, goes from a small, dorm room-sized office without windows to a large, second-floor office with two flat-screen televisions, which is attached to an even bigger conference room.
Although there is much excitement flowing through the halls of the Ramsay Center, Martelli refuses to let his team feel a sense of entitlement after entering their new $35 million home. If anything, the Hawks will be expected to perform at a higher level with the brand new amenities.
"The statement, `to whom much is given, much is expected' is certainly the case with us now," Martelli said. "There are no excuses now. We may not achieve excellence, but there are no excuses for not pursuing excellence."
The coaches and players are not the only ones who will benefit from the upgrade in facilities. Fans can now use the new 54th Street entrance to the arena, as well as a concourse that goes completely around the upper level of the gym. More restrooms and concession stands have been added to accommodate the anticipated increase in fans.
The total cost of the upgrade was $35 million, $10 million of which was donated by the building's namesake, Michael Hagan '85, the former chairman and chief executive officer of NutriSystem, Inc.
Besides Hagan, Saint Joseph's looked to some other of its alumni for help, two of whom made many memories in the Fieldhouse: Jameer Nelson and Delonte West.
Both NBA stars made sizable donations and each have an area in the Ramsay Center dedicated to them: the Jameer Nelson Men's Basketball Locker Room and the Delonte West Players' Lounge.
Tom Wynne, a former two-sport standout at Saint Joseph's, was also one of the lead benefactors, and is the namesake for the Wynne Hall of Fame Room.
A banner depicting Nelson hangs above the court, alongside the other Hawk greats who have their numbers retired, men's players Mike Bantom, Cliff Anderson, and George Senesky, women's players Susan Moran and Dale Hodges, and, of course, Coach Ramsay.
On October 17, the Hawks hosted a dedication for the Hagan Arena, which featured a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included Hagan, Ramsay and Saint Joseph's University president Timothy Lannon, S.J. The dedication featured speeches from former Hawk players Bantom, Moran, and Wynne and former Saint Joseph's player and coach John Griffin.
Hawks from many different eras came together to celebrate the start of a new one, as some of the attendees of the ceremony included Hawk legends Pat McFarland, Rap Curry and Rodney Blake, as well Tyrone Barley and Chet Stachitas of the 2003-04 Elite Eight team.
The renovation could not have happened without Hagan's generosity, but the Hagan Arena was made possible by more than just his donation. It was built upon a rich basketball history, which has featured NBA coaches, first-round draft picks, and a loyal fan base that lives by the school's motto: The Hawk Will Never Die.
"The Hagan Arena marks the start of a new era for basketball and the University," said Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics Don DiJulia '67. "It is the beginning of 100 more years of fantastic finishes and tournament teams, 100 more years of community and spirit, and 100 more years of Hawk passion and pride."
The 1,000 new seats and upgraded facilities will help the Hawks compete for championships, playoff berths, and highly-touted recruits. The Hagan Arena will give Saint Joseph's players the opportunity to perform at their highest levels. Most facets of Hawk hoops have changed for the better thanks to the new facilities, but the one thing that will remain the same for Saint Joseph's is its passion.
"The Arena is spectacular in every way," Martelli said. "But the main thing is that the spirit that is Saint Joseph's University has not changed."
After playing its home games at The Palestra for an entire season, Saint Joseph's is glad to be returning home. The Hawks uncharacteristically won just seven of 12 home games last season. In 59 seasons at the Fieldhouse, the Hawks won 80 percent of their games, with a 319-82 record.
With their new arena ready to start the first season of many, there is only one thing the Hawks have left to do in their newly-christened home: win.