There is something of a “wow” factor at Golden 1 Center for newcomers to the scene, and it still has Brian Katz and Jim Les buzzing a full year after the coaches first entered the palace of a place downtown.
Katz, the Sacramento State men’s basketball coach, said he momentarily lost his breath and his ability to speak when he walked into the venue, and that’s not easy to do as he is as jovial and high-octane as they come.
Les, the UC Davis coach, played in the NBA, so he has seen his share of plush arenas. This one takes the cake.
Sac State and UCD met a year ago at Golden 1 Center, marking the first collegiate game in the home of the Kings. Sac State and UCD last season offered up a sample-size prelude to the NCAA March Madness wave that swept the building and region last spring. The Aggies beat the Hornets 64-47 at the arena Tuesday, the 116th meeting between the rivals. The teams will play against each other in the venue in each of the next two seasons.
The Golden 1 Center experience is two-fold, the coaches say. The players get a memory to cherish and a golden opportunity to show off their brand to the general public as the venue aims to remain a player in the college scene, large and small (not to mention a nice recruiting perk to high school student-athletes). The March Madness weekend last spring sold out at Golden 1 Center with an estimated economic boost of $5 million, which was plenty to secure tournament bids downtown for upcoming seasons.
And the UCD and Sac State bands got into it Tuesday, reveling in a chance to belt it out with such an impressive backdrop. Sac State will play Portland State at the arena on Dec. 21, followed by Kansas-Stanford.
“When I first saw the place, it was, ‘Wow!’ ” Katz said. “It’s the best building I’ve ever seen. It’s the best facility in the country, the roominess, every single amenity. You have to applaud the Kings because it’s unbelievably first class, and we’re lucky to have it just five minutes from our campus.”
Les said he wanted the Aggies to soak in the moment and then focus on the game as they entered the venue snapping photos and taking video.
“I said, ‘OK, I’m going to give you the first 10 minutes. Get all that out of the way,’ ” Les said. “You know they have to put it on social media, let their boys know where they are. I’m like, ‘OK, let’s make time. Get all your photos, pictures, movies before.’ ”
Les added, “Can’t thank the Kings organization enough for having us in their house. It’s a great experience for our guys. They’re excited. They talk about it from the summer on. It’s such a neat building. For us to go there and have a game every year is really special.”
UCD plays home games on campus at the Pavilion, a cozy 7,600-seat facility that has sold out when the Aggies are on nationally televised broadcasts, such as ESPN.
Sac State plays in an even cozier – OK, cramped – venue on campus. The Nest was built in 1955 and rates as one of the oldest facilities in Division I basketball with a capacity of 1,012.
A major focus for Sac State president Robert S. Nelsen and first-year athletic director Mark Orr is to get an events center built on campus.
“Those two are all over it,” Katz said. “It’s going to happen. There’s too many people interested in making it happen for it not to happen. Here’s what else I love: You have two people in Dr. Nelsen and Orr that really care and value athletics. That’s really shifted since Dr. Nelsen came on, and especially now with Mark here now.”