- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

Dave Odom was seeking a job as an assistant in the spring of 1982 when Virginia basketball coach Terry Holland gave him a call. Holland wanted Odom to visit Charlottesville and set up a meeting at U-Hall.

“I’d never heard it called that before. I thought it was a U-Haul place where they rented trucks,” Odom, now the coach at South Carolina, recalled. “I was embarrassed to ask him where it was. When I got in town, I went to the local square and asked ‘Do you know where U-Hall is,’ and they said ‘You mean University Hall.’ When I told them why I was there, they said ‘That’s University Hall, that’s U-Hall.’”

Odom eventually found University Hall, the building where he would work for the next seven years. What he found was an intimate 8,392-seat arena, home to many of Virginia’s hardwood highlights in the 41 seasons since it opened in November 1965.

Today might produce the last such moment. Charlottesville’s basketball theater-in-the-round plays host to its final scheduled game when Maryland (17-11, 7-8 ACC) visits Virginia (14-12, 7-8).

While the game is important — the Terrapins are fighting to remain in the NCAA tournament hunt and the short-handed Cavaliers want to complete a surprising .500 season in league play — the weekend also has created the opportunity for a giant reunion of Virginia basketball greats.

Barry Parkhill and Wally Walker plan to be there. So do Ralph Sampson and Richard Morgan. Same goes for Bryant Stith and Curtis Staples. Holland, now the athletic director at East Carolina, also has indicated to school officials he’ll be back.

U-Hall was home to plenty of good games. Take the eight-day stretch in 1971 when the Cavaliers knocked off Clemson, No. 2 South Carolina, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech — all at home — to earn their first national ranking.

“That was a very significant week,” said Parkhill, a sophomore on that Cavaliers squad and now an associate athletic director at Virginia. “South Carolina is the game everyone talks about. That was a huge week. We proved we could win in the league.”

The Cavaliers won even more when Holland arrived in 1974. He took Virginia to nine NCAA tournaments and two Final Fours (1981 and 1984) in 16 seasons, as well as its only ACC tournament title (1976).

Yet the game at U-Hall during Holland’s tenure that many remember is Sampson’s final home game in 1983 when the three-time national player of the year missed two free throws in the closing seconds, only to get the rebound tipped back to him. He made a short jumper to clinch the 83-81 victory over Maryland.

No single night particularly stands out to Holland, who later served as Virginia’s athletic director. Instead, he savors the memories of day-to-day happenings that occur in any workplace.

“We spent a lot more time in U-Hall for practices and in the offices than we did for games, so the interplay between coaches and others in the building were part of that — such as practical jokes on other coaches in the locker room like greasing Page’s [current Virginia AD Craig Littlepage’s] lock with vaseline so he couldn’t get in his locker without getting it all over himself,” Holland said. “Or changing [current U.S. soccer team coach] Bruce Arena’s lock to one that he didn’t have the combination to.”

The building never possessed the historical curiosity of a Cameron Indoor Stadium, Cole Field House or N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum. It had structural problems that forced its closure for two months in 1998, and it was never home to a men’s or women’s national champion.

Still, the utilitarian arena with an unusual dome became part of the fabric of life in Charlottesville.

“It was so relaxed. It was so different than what you think of the University of Virginia,” said Odom, who remembers walking on game days with Holland from their nearby homes to U-Hall along streets lined with rowdy fans. “Most people have that image of a coat and tie, the blue sports coat and orange tie. U-Hall was entirely different. It was an atmosphere all unto itself.”

The atmosphere will be decidedly different when John Paul Jones Arena opens across the street from U-Hall next fall. The new building will seat 15,000, nearly double U-Hall’s capacity, and will have the modern amenities antiquated University Hall doesn’t possess.

It’s no secret the success of the new building is contingent on the Cavaliers’ winning and reaching NCAA tournaments, something they’ve done just once since 1998. Creating an intimidating environment — as U-Hall possessed when it was inhabited by a ranked team — will be a big part of whatever progress Virginia makes in the next few seasons.

“The only concern I would have about moving is how quickly you can make that a great home court,” said Virginia’s first-year coach, Dave Leitao. “When you start again in the fall, you’ll be just about as new to that building as [an opponent] will. From a feel standpoint, you have to get to the position where students, fans and administrators feel like that’s their home.”

For one more day, at least (and perhaps more if Virginia plays host to an NIT game or two later this month), U-Hall will remain home. Sure, today’s game matters, but the memories created in the building mean much more.

“It’s really just a celebration,” Parkhill said. “I feel my favorite place in world is University Hall. I would like to feel that every kid that played there feels the same way.”

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