Ryan Young/SEC Country Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin at an Outback Bowl function in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium on Thursday. TAMPA, Fla. — The Florida men’s and women’s basketball teams have had a well-traveled start to the season as construction has continued on the renovations to their on-campus home , but their tour of the state is soon coming to a close.
Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center remains on track to reopen Dec. 21 as planned when the men’s team hosts Little Rock, athletic director Scott Stricklin said Thursday.
“Absolutely. Dec. 21. It better — we’ve got a game scheduled,” Stricklin said. “Dec. 21, Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center will be ready to go.”
Florida’s 21st-ranked men’s basketball team has played games in Jacksonville, Tampa, Lakeland and Orlando (for a pre-planned tournament) already and will wrap up its instate travel schedule with a true road game at Florida State on Sunday and then one last neutral-site game with Charlotte in Sunrise the following Saturday.
That Dec. 21 home game with Little Rock has been the targeted return to the O’Dome all along.
The 23rd-ranked women’s team, meanwhile, will make its true home debut Dec. 28 against Southeastern Louisiana.
The $64.5 million dollar renovation project began with the demolition phase in late March.
“I had a chance to get in there a couple weeks ago. They’ve done a phenomenal job,” Stricklin said of the home arena. “And I’d been in the O’Dome for basketball games in the past and it’s lost that multi-purpose feel, candidly, that it had back in the day. It feels like an arena. The premium spaces are unbelievable. Having those seats in the corner, which was always that open spot, really makes it feel a lot tighter. I think the fans are going to be blown away when they walk in there, and obviously Coach (Mike) White’s got a pretty good team and I know they’re going to enjoy getting to watch it in person.”
The Florida men’s team is off to a 7-2 start with its only losses coming against top-10 Gonzaga and Duke teams. The Gators’ women’s team is off to a 6-2 start.
Stricklin, who officially took over as athletic director on Nov. 1 after leaving the same position at Mississippi State, was in Tampa on Thursday for an Outback Bowl event at Raymond James Stadium. He said the final push to complete the project hasn’t been anything out of the ordinary.
“I don’t know if it’s been stressful, but there’s always a rush at the end of any construction project. That’s just the nature of that. But that’s not unusual,” he said. “There’s going to be attention paid to things that it’s going to be done right, it’s going to be first-class. And, you know, there will probably be some punch-list items that we’ll do in the weeks to come, but we’ll be ready to go Dec. 21.”