ORONO — The members of the University of Maine men’s basketball team spend countless hours each year in Memorial Gymnasium.
Usually, it entails the rigors of practices and drills.
Sunday afternoon, the Black Bears are hoping to have some fun playing a game in the gym affectionately known as “The Pit.”
Coach Ted Woodward’s team (3-5) looks to enjoy the comforts of home Sunday when UMaine entertains Norfolk State (1-6) in a noon contest.
“It’s the comfort I feel,” senior Troy Barnies of Auburn said of the biggest advantage to playing in the Pit. “We’re in here three hours a day every day and I’ve been here for (more than) three years, so I feel like all of us are a lot more comfortable because we shoot on this rim every single day.”
The first 500 fans to come through the doors in an effort to “Pack the Pit” will receive a free T-shirt for the annual game on what was once the Black Bears’ home court.
Gov. John Baldacci will be recognized at halftime for his efforts in helping procure a $7 million state appropriation for planned renovations to the facility.
Aside from the comfort level, perhaps the key dynamic of playing in Memorial Gym is the potential for a high-energy atmosphere created by the crowd.
Even current UMaine players have heard stories about the old days.
“I think the atmosphere in here will be awesome,” said junior point guard Andrew Rogers. “With people here, it will give us the feeling that it’s really packed and I think it’ll be an instance where we really feel like we have the home-court advantage.”
“You like playing in those environments because it gets your blood flowing. It’s fun,” he added.
Woodward said having energy and excitement in a confined setting such as the Pit makes the experience fun for all involved. It is a dynamic that often existed back when UMaine played its games in Memorial Gym.
“The experience was fun for everybody,” Woodward said. “It really unified a team with the campus community, which is what college sports is all about.”
UMaine has played several games in Memorial Gym in recent years. Last year, the Bears beat Division III UMaine-Presque Isle after a two-year hiatus.
The Bears, who moved their home games to Alfond Arena in January 1992, have played seven games in the Pit since the 2003-04 season. Memorial Gym holds approximately 1,300 fans in its present configuration.
“I know in the past games that we’ve had in here, guys really look forward to it,” Woodward said. “And it’s a great experience for fans, too.”
UMaine is hoping to enjoy some carryover from Wednesday night’s 68-56 victory at the University of Massachusetts.
It was a game that sparked confidence among the players.
“It was a good win for us, but more importantly as a team we were all excited for each other,” Rogers said. “As a team, we picked each other up.”
Woodward said it was another example of a balanced, deep team that receives contributions from several players on a given night.
“What we have is a team of guys who all bring something to the table,” Woodward said.
“They’re just find the niche where they fit and where they can do the things that they do within the team concept.”