Monday, Feb. 23, 2015
Down on the court at the heart of the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, Shaka Smart and his staff and players are hard at work. Instead of the pulsing, chaotic crowds that accompany their games here, though, the Rams are surrounded by thousands of silent, empty seats. There are no fans to feed on, no opponent to confront. It’s a moment of temporary – and only partial – isolation, their calm before the storm.
They run drills, practice set pieces and prepare for the particular tactics and tendencies of La Salle, that night’s opponent. The team is purposeful and businesslike in their efforts with no wasted moments, no lulls without clear intention.
Meanwhile, swirling in the team’s orbit, from alongside the court to the deepest recesses of the arena, a small army of men and women move with swift but unhurried efficiency to complete their own preparations for that night’s game.
Someone tests the technology at the scorer’s table. A man pushes a cart stacked with shelves of food around the concourse. Near him, the rattle and clang of a kitchen at full throttle is faint through an open door. CBS Sports Network members fiddle with the cables – there are miles of them – that are coiled like thick black snakes behind one of the basketball hoops. Other members of the CBS crew perched above the scene shift their camera from side to side, readying for the real action.
The players on the court seem unaware of the action that surrounds them, just as everyone else seems unconcerned with the particular paces of the players. They all have their own jobs to do.
The product on the court and the dedicated fans in the stands are justifiably the focus on gamedays – VCU has won 26 or more games in five straight seasons and has sold out 64 straight home games – but the work done to provide the Rams and their devoted fans with the venue they deserve requires hard work and precise organization, much of it performed outside of public view.
“I think people would be surprised how long it takes us to get ready for a game,” said Nate Doughty, assistant athletic director for facilities and operations at VCU. “It’s a lot more than just turning on the lights and unlocking the doors.”
Doughty said gameday staff members feel pride playing a role in the electric atmosphere that has become what he calls “the new normal here.”
“When we go to work in the morning on a gameday, there’s a buzz around the building,” he said.
(All photos by Lindy Rodman, VCU University Relations.)
Behind the scenes at the Siegel Center on gameday
Nate Doughty (in blue shirt), assistant director for facilities and operations, holds a planning meeting on the morning of the game. According to Doughty, the basic responsibilities of managing a gameday have not changed much in the 14 years he has worked at the Siegel Center. However, the scale has grown. “There’s just more of it,” he said. “There’s more scrutiny, a higher profile. There’s more of everything.”
Opposing teams arrive at varying times. Some prefer to wait until only a couple of hours before game time to enter the Siegel Center. La Salle arrived in the morning the day of their 7 p.m. game and held a walkthrough practice and shootaround.
Rebecca Lynch spreads T-shirts with the No. 6 on them – symbolizing the fans’ role as VCU’s sixth man at home games – in the student section.
In the Siegel Center kitchen, Chad Healand slices brisket that will be served during the game.
The Rams hold a gameday practice. Afterward, while a handful of players get in some extra shots, coach Shaka Smart speaks with CBS staff to give them insights that can inform their broadcast of the game.
The team enjoys a pregame meal after practice just steps away from the court.
Darnell Randall and Renee Highsmith (with mop) clean the court in preparation for the game.
RMC Events employees gather in a stairway to get their assignments and pregame instructions from supervisor Billy Gordon (sport coat). In 2001, 45 RMC Events staffers worked VCU home games. Close to 90 staffers now work the games.
Team assistant trainer Ben Teese helps prepare players prior to the game.
Momentum builds among the fans before the game.
The CBS mobile center is housed in a tractor trailer parked behind the Siegel Center. Ten years ago, television appearances were rare for the Rams and the team did not have a single national TV appearance that season. This season, 24 regular-season VCU games will be shown on national TV. The operation required to put together a single broadcast is extensive, and TV crews routinely need credentials for 35 to 45 people to staff a VCU home game.
VCU is 84-10 at the Siegel Center in six seasons under Shaka Smart, including 11-3 this year.
Players answer questions from the press in the media room after a tough loss.
The game finished and the fans gone, cleanup and preparations for the next event will soon begin. In addition to VCU men’s and women’s basketball games and women’s volleyball matches, the Siegel Center is home to a host of other activities, including the upcoming state high school basketball championships, which will feature 36 games played over the course of six jam-packed days.
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