UCSC Basketball Teams Head to Kaiser Permanente Arena

SANTA CRUZ — After watching a Santa Cruz Warriors home game alongside the D-League basketball team’s president, it took UC Santa Cruz chancellor George Blumenthal just 27 minutes to convince a committee that the Banana Slugs should play their games Kaiser Permanente Arena.

On Tuesday, UCSC and the Warriors officially announced they had reached an agreement allowing both the men’s and women’s UCSC basketball teams to play the majority of their 2013-14 seasons at the arena in downtown Santa Cruz.

“This collaboration is a win-win,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “Our student-athletes are excited about the prospect of playing their home games in the new Warriors venue, and the community will benefit because this will make UCSC games more accessible to the many basketball fans in the Santa Cruz area.”

The UCSC teams are among the biggest basketball fish landed by the Warriors. However, this winter the arena will also host two major high school tournaments: the Seascape Invitational, formerly held at Aptos High, and the Dad’s Club Invitational, which has been held at the Santa Cruz Civic since 1956.

Jim Weyermann, president of the Santa Cruz Warriors, said bringing more basketball events to the arena in general — and UCSC in particular — had been part of the organization’s plan since before it and the City of Santa Cruz erected the temporary facility a year ago.

“It’s part of an integrated marketing plan for the facility that’s really specific to basketball and sports,” Weyermann said.

“When we first started talking about building a new arena, one of the issues was where the university stood in terms of its own development,” he added.

Weyermann said he hopes opening the facility up to UCSC will make it easier to get a permanent structure built after the arena’s seven-year lease expires.

Weyermann said he studied UCSC’s feasibility plan for building a new basketball facility on campus. The study indicated that replacing the Slugs’ current 350-seat West Field House wasn’t possible in the short term but that funds could be made available for an alternate solution.

After months of trying to get a response from the university, Weyermann said he eventually just called up Blumenthal and invited him to a Warriors game.

“During the course of that game, we hammered out a verbal understanding of how we might test how we can help the university expand its basketball program and see if we could capture local and regional interest,” Weyermann said. “Two weeks later, we went up to present an outline of our deal. George made a decision in less than 27 minutes. He had the people at the university he needed in the room and said, ‘We’re going to do this.'”

The teams will play a total of 22 games at the 2,505-seat arena. The women will open their season there Nov. 15 against St. Catherine University in the first round of the Hampton Inn Classic. The men will begin play in the arena Nov. 16 against Cal Lutheran.

The university will not have to pay to use the facility, Weyermann said. He said the Warriors will cover the cost of hosting and promoting the Slugs’ games. The Warriors will recoup those expenses from the gate, with any profits going toward hosting NCAA Division III basketball tournaments.

UCSC women’s basketball coach Todd Kent said he is excited about the possibility of having more than just UCSC students attend his team’s games.

“We’ve been working really hard to build a program that has a legitimate shot at the national tournament,” said Kent, who led the Slugs to their first winning season in program history last year. “I’m looking forward to showcasing that to the community.”

Kent said he isn’t worried about losing proceeds from ticket sales, which previously went into a pot split by all UCSC sports teams. He is more interested in the recruiting draw of the arena.

“Our gym on campus has always been adequate, but it’s always been kind of a barrier. Kids walk in and say, ‘This is your practice gym,’ and we say, ‘No, this is where we play,” Kent said. “Now we have the benefit to … say to kids who have been recruited to bigger schools, ‘Now we have a Division I gym to play in as well.'”

The Warriors’ arrangements with the two high school tournaments differ slightly from that with UCSC. Weyermann said the Warriors bought the Seascape Invitational from Aptos High and will try to eventually convert it into a high-profile national tournament.

Organizers of the Dad’s Club Tournament decided to move the event to KP Arena this year in the hopes of bringing new eyes to the waning event.

“Really, the only thing that’s changing about Dad’s Club is the venue,” said Santa Cruz High varsity boys coach Patrick Jones, who confirmed the move. “All the things it offers, the hospitality and competition, we are going to bring to the new arena. It’s just a new place.”

Weyermann was careful to say the Warriors did not approach the Dad’s Club about moving the tournament from the Civic to the Arena. He added, however, that after realizing they could double their revenue, he can see why organizers would make the move.

“I absolutely concur with that thinking and hope we’re right,” he said. “It’s the same thinking we put into the university program.”

By Julie Jag, Santa Cruz Sentinel Sports Editor

jjag@santacruzsentinel.com

This article originally appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Visit their web site for more coverage.