Gators set to make debut at Exactech Arena

Last-minute touches continued Tuesday as Florida men’s basketball players take their first shots on the floor of Exactech Arena following a complete makeover of the O’Connell Center. Florida sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen was the first to christen the newly renovated Exactech Arena at the Stephen. C. O’Connell Center, launching a shot from beyond the 3-point line.

With a consistent stroke, Allen made seven 3s in a row before his first miss.

Certainly, the Gators would take that kind of shooting Wednesday when they host Arkansas-Little Rock in the first basketball game in the new-look O’Dome. Florida coach Mike White purposely kept players out of the arena until Tuesday because he wanted the whole team to see it at the same time.

As Florida players walked in Tuesday afternoon before a practice in the new building, there were gazes of wonderment at the $64.5 million makeover. Some took video on their cellphones. Others, like Allen, raced to the court quickly to shoot.

“It doesn’t look anything like it did last year or when I first got here,” Florida junior guard Chris Chiozza said. “It’s crazy. It looks like a totally new place. I’m excited to get in here tomorrow.”

White is concerned about his team being a little too amped up about playing the debut game in the new building.

“This is an amazing place,” White said. “Not sure where our focus will be for practice, but we’ve got to reel them back in somehow. Easier said than done.

“I can’t believe that there are a few less seats. It feels even bigger. The chair backs, everything has been done first class. It looks like a brand new arena.”

The renovation project was one of many selling points to convince White to leave Louisiana Tech for Florida and replace icon coach Billy Donovan. Now that it’s complete, White said it should benefit the Florida basketball program immensely.

“Long-term, I don’t know how you bring a recruit in here that doesn’t love this place,” White said. “I think it instills probably even more pride into our players about what this place is all about, the opportunities that they have here. I think our former players will come back and embrace this place. I can’t wait to see our fans’ reactions to it tomorrow night. I know they’re going to be fired up. It’s a new, beautiful home for all Gators.”

The baskets and floor are new, as Florida made the tough decision to replace the court it purchased from the 2006 Final Four (Florida’s first national title) after a 10-year run.

“The court looks a little longer,” Chiozza said. “I’m a little nervous about that, we’ve got to run on it today and I don’t feel like running on this whole court. But we’ll do it.”

Chiozza and senior point guard Kasey Hill also noticed the building being brighter than last season.“Real bright,” Chiozza said. “I think we’re gonna make a lot of shots because we can see well.”Florida is shooting 32 percent from 3-point range, so any feelings of confidence shooting the […]