All good things must come to an end and as one era ends, another begins. The University of Houston proudly unveils its brand new basketball palace, the Fertitta Center, with a game on Saturday, Dec. 1. The beginning of the Fertitta Center officially closes the chapter on the building formerly known as Hofheinz Pavilion.
The Cougars men’s basketball team will play their first game at 8 p.m. in the Fertitta Center against the 2017 PAC-12 regular season champions, the Oregon Ducks. The first women’s game will be on Thursday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m. against Texas A&M University.
Originally constructed in 1969 and named for former Harris County Judge, Houston mayor and Astrodome visionary Roy Hofheinz, Hofheinz Pavilion was once the mecca for local basketball.
When the NBA Rockets moved to Houston from San Diego, they initially played games in Hofheinz Pavilion. It was the site for high school regional basketball playoffs for years. The road to Austin for the state high school basketball tourney was always through Hofheinz.
In the early ‘80s Hofheinz Pavilion was the home court for Phi Slama Jama, Texas’ tallest fraternity. Fans filled the arena to witness the high-flying antics of Clyde Drexler, Bennie Anders, Michael Young and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Former Cougar All-American and NBA standout Otis Birdsong has vivid memories of the former Hofheinz Pavilion.
“I was a freshman in 1973, the first-year freshman could play varsity ball and Hofheinz Pavilion was an unbelievable place to play,” Birdsong recalled.
“It was a beautiful, intimate place. It was loud and gave us an automatic homecourt advantage. We were an independent then, so we took on all comers. We always believed no matter who we played that Hofheinz game us a definite advantage.”
The arena has received a $60 million-dollar total renovation, with $20 million donated as a gift from billionaire alum Tillman Fertitta. It was the largest donation ever by an individual to the athletic department.
With a 7,100-seat capacity, the Fertitta Center will feature a premium club area and a courtside club. The reconfigured bowl will move mid-court seating locations closer to game action with floor-level seating opposite the team benches for UH students.
Renovations include a new audio system, sports lighting and video boards as well as new concession stands and expanded restrooms. It will featurenew locker rooms, media rooms and a tunnel that will light up red as players march through to the court.
Last season, the Cougars played their home games at the Texas Southern University H&PE Arena and posted an undefeated home record.
Cougar head coach Kelvin Sampson is anxious to move his troops back on campus, an advantage that UH students will love.
“The most important entity that fills up a basketball arena or football stadium is the students,” Sampson said. “We can count on them, and we’ve got to get our students in the habit of coming here to watch our basketball team.”
With a 40- seatstudent section in the front row opposite the team benches and another section on the end line next to the entrance tunnel, the layout is designed to create a home court advantage.
“Bringing students down close to the court, that energy translates to the court, to our kids and helps create a significant home court advantage,” said Chris Pezman, director of operations.