- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

Athletic director Debbie Yow marched into the Nextel Heritage Hall dining area of her new building yesterday and inserted a bright, shiny key into a closed plate glass window overlooking the playing area.

Nothing happened.

"Rats," said Yow, or words to that effect. "I better go find somebody who has the right key."

Normally, such a minor event would not be worthy of comment. This time it was, because on a day when Maryland unveiled its $125million Comcast Center, this was the only thing that didn't seem perfect.

During the next seven weeks or so, the building will have more premieres than all the "Rocky" movies put together. Tonight there is a reception for presumably well-heeled boosters, and tomorrow night Midnight Madness heralds the opening of basketball practice. The Harlem Globetrotters, of all people, appear for the first exhibition Nov.12 and Miami of Ohio for the first real game Nov.24. Everybody who walks in the door is likely to have the same reaction, approximately zowie!

Man and boy, I've seen them open all kinds of sporting playpens in these parts: D.C. (later RFK) Stadium, Capital Centre, Camden Yards, Jack Kent Cooke Stadium (now FedEx Field), PSINet (momentarily Ravens) Stadium, and probably a few more I've forgotten.

And you know what? None of them looked better than Comcast.

A man asked Gary Williams, the Terrapins' all-conquering head honcho of hoops, what he liked best about coaching at Comcast.

"I dunno, because I haven't coached there yet," Gary replied with flawless logic. "But it should be great for recruiting."

A bit later, briefing the media on his 2002-03 Terps, Williams expanded on that theme. "I was a pretty good ballplayer in South Jersey, and I had a few scholarship offers. But when I came down here to watch the [1963] East Regional, walked into Cole through the front door and looked down at that bowl, I knew I was coming to Maryland. I don't know if that's the right way to pick a college, but "

With all due respect to 47-year-old Cole Field House's history and awesome aura, who needs it? Williams, who yields to no man in his affection for the old barn, put it this way: "This place has everything [a coach could want], and that's a big plus. Cole's tradition was great, but when you're 17 or 18 years old, you want to play in a place like this."

Heck, I'm not arguing with Gary. After all, the guy has won 481 more games and one more national championship than I have.

Senior Associate Athletic Director Joe Hull, who has overseen the construction of Comcast, led the panting (literally) media up and down on a tour that seemed to cover most of the building's 440,000 square feet (compared to Cole's 202,000). Locker rooms were not included workmen are still puttering there but we may assume that reporters will be able to query key Terps after a game without stepping on the next guy's bunions.

In the process, Hull tossed out more than a few numbers. The most urgent: Comcast has 37 restrooms including several unisex ones compared with Cole's four. Of course, each of the luxury suites has its own pit stop area fortunately perhaps, considering that each suite also has a private bar.

How much do the luxury suites cost for a season?

Forget it. You, and I, don't want to know.

With advertising signs surrounding the huge, four-sided scoreboard, Maryland is going to make buckets of money off Comcast. Yow says it's sold out for this season and there are 1,900 souls on the waiting list, even with the addition of standing room that will boost the capacity to 17,950.

Cole, which officially seated 14,500, often sounded as if 100,000 more screaming meemies were on the premises. My guess is that the din from Comcast will be even more mind-blowing, especially when Dookies and Tar Heels show up.

The place also includes an informative Walk of Fame off the main lobby that has been painstakingly assembled by executive director Jack Zane, who probably has been around Terptown longer than anybody except the late Curley Byrd, a former university president for whom the football stadium was named in 1950. The concourses on two levels are much wider than at Cole, and the 12 permanent concession stands include facilities for preparing food. That means your hot dog or burger stands a chance of being served somewhat warmer than winter weather.

If such snacks don't empty your pockets fast enough, you can stop off at the Terps Gear store and buy the turtle-infested items of your choice. Not coincidentally, an ATM stands a short distance away.

There is a satellite gym with bleachers accommodating 1,500 spectators that will be used for several non-revenue sports and for at least one women's basketball game this season. Spacious athletic offices sit along a circular hallway, and in a trophy case nearby rests the championship trophy to end all championship trophies: the 2002 NCAA men's basketball hardware.

With most of last season's stars now attempting to shine in the NBA, it will be an uphill fight for Williams' 14th Maryland team to successfully defend that title. When it comes to basketball venues throughout the ACC and the nation, though, I doubt that any other arena will challenge Comcast. Long may it wave.

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