NORMAN — Oklahoma point guard Trae Young sported a wide grin, thinking about the proposed new arena in Norman's University North Park.
It might make a great future home for the OU men's basketball program, but that wasn't at the front of his mind. By the time construction is completed on the 10,000-seat stadium, he might already be graduated. Instead part of what he was thinking is what if he could have played there last year?
Fans crammed into NHS Gym could have used a little more elbow room that night when the five-star recruit's Norman North squad played Norman High. Some were turned away because there wasn't enough space, and others sat in the aisles as seats ran out quickly. As much as the plans for the new arena — approved earlier this week by the University North Park TIF advisory committee and discussed by the city council during a study session — are exciting for OU, they would also have a large impact on the city.
The Crosstown Clash football game is held at Owen Field annually. With OU serving as an anchor tenant, which athletic director Joe Castiglione said he's “absolutely interested” in earlier this week, it opens up possibilities for other events, including those for Norman Public Schools. NPS athletic director T.D. O'Hara said Sunday the school would definitely be interested in using the new facility.
“My last year, we probably could have sold that out or at least got it rocking a little bit,” Young said. “But, I'm happy for the city, and for a university, it's a big step in the right direction. If it happens, it's wonderful.”
There is still a long way to go. The arena will have to be approved by the city council, funded, developed and constructed. Castiglione said earlier this week that coaches Lon Kruger, of the OU men, and Sherri Coale, of the OU women, would potentially be included in the design process.
Kruger's excited, but he knows these things take time.
Construction began in February on a $7 million training facility, named the Blake Griffin Performance Center, on Lloyd Noble Center's southern end, and is expected to be completed a year later. This new arena proposal is in its earliest stages.
“A lot of discussion remains, but hopefully it continues to move in that direction,” Kruger said. “It's exciting, anytime you can make that type of progress, make that jump. But there are a lot of discussions ahead, and a lot of time before all of that physically gets started.”
It's fun to think about, but still so many questions remain. Among those, is how will the location affect turnout? Easily accessible from I-35, it will likely give fans coming from Oklahoma City a more navigable route to the OU basketball games. However, it will also be off campus, making the journey a little more difficult for students.
Kruger doesn't see this as a major concern, and the arena would still be less than 10 miles from campus.
“The trade off, in terms of it being a state-of-the-art facility, one that is going to be a great size, with the retail areas and atmosphere around it, a situation like that is fantastic,” Kruger said. “We're excited about it.”
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