B Brian Seymour showed the enthusiasm of a kid parading a new bicycle around the block.
The CIF senior director offered a tour Monday at Cal’s historic Haas Pavilion as the CIF planned for the high school state basketball championships March 27-28.
The state finals, a staple at Sleep Train Arena, will be in Berkeley for the first time because of a scheduling conflict at the Kings’ home arena. The finals will return to Sleep Train in 2016, but sites beyond that have not been determined.
The MaxPreps Martin Luther King Jr. Classic on Monday at Haas gave the CIF something of a test run for the title games. Haas works, Seymour said, giving it favorable ratings for the dressing rooms, entry points and seating for students, bands and cheerleaders.
Pete Saco and Todd Reiswig, who will run the CIF finals at Haas after successfully holding Sac-Joaquin Section title events at Sleep Train for the better part of 25 years, agreed. Saco, the retired section commissioner, still dabbles in championship events because he knows the memories for players and fans can last a lifetime. Reiswig, a retired Elk Grove High basketball coach, still beams when he recalls his players competing for titles at unique venues, even 20 years later.
“State basketball can be fun here,” Saco said.
“It’s different here than Sleep Train, and different can be good,” Seymour said.
Haas Pavilion is more intimate than Sleep Train, particularly for high school events. Sleep Train, which seats 17,312, can echo when there’s a crowd of 10,000 or so for high school games. Haas, which seats 11,877, can get boisterous for Pacific-12 Conference games.
“Sleep Train is a nice treat for the high school kids, but I don’t think Haas is a step down at all,” said De La Salle athletic director Leo Lopoz, whose school hosted Monday’s MLK Classic. “This is as good a facility as there is in the state. It has more of a high school feel. A crowd of 10,000 here feels different than a crowd of 10,000 at Sleep Train. And the Bay Area has a really strong tradition of basketball. I think those fans will love the CIF finals here. And I think different is good.”
Franklin boys coach Jesse Formaker agrees. Formaker – who has taken teams to the MLK Classic twice, including Monday – is a Cal grad who has watched plenty of games at Haas.
“It’s a beautiful place, a great facility,” Formaker said. “Sleep Train is nice, but it’s flat, cavernous. There’s a different vibe here. Fans are on top of you, and the sight lines are different.”
Sacramento coach Derek Swafford, whose team played Monday, also agreed.
“It’s excellent here,” Swafford said. “You strive to play in a venue like this, and for a lot of kids your inspiration is to play at a college like this, so this is a sample of what could be.”
CIF executive director Roger Blake has said he wants student-athletes to be “wowed” when they walk into a championship venue.
“They’ll absolutely still have that here,” Formaker said.
The No. 1 issue fans bring up about events at Cal is parking, but CIF officials insist it shouldn’t be a problem, especially with Cal on spring break the week of the state finals.
Cal could become a long-term host for CIF events, including the Northern California finals.
The new downtown arena for the Kings, scheduled to open for the 2016-17 season, will host NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games in 2017, which likely will conflict with the NorCal or state finals.
“When the new Kings arena is finished, it’ll be a state-of-the-art facility, and there will be a lot of events there,” Seymour said. “We’ll come back here in February for another look. We want the fans, players, everyone to have a great experience. That’s always the goal.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.