Before Lady Bulldogs basketball coach Joni Taylor left for a month of recruiting in July, she’d stop by the University of Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum to sneak peeks at the progress of the facility’s renovations.
When she returned in August, it looked completely different. The second phase of the $8 million renovations were finished in September, and Taylor and assistant athletic director for facility operations Melvin Robinson unveiled the facility to media members Monday.
The women’s volleyball team will be the first to use the updated facility against Tennessee on Oct. 11. The men’s basketball team will host its home opener against Valdosta State on Nov. 2, and the Lady Bulldogs will play Wofford on Nov. 12. The Gym Dogs will compete in the venue against Oklahoma on Jan. 12.
The updates include black seats, an improved LED lighting system and sound system, and updated graphics of past teams and retired jerseys. The focal point is the new center-hung scoreboard.
“It gives us a great atmosphere,” Taylor said. “I’m excited for our fans because they come in and support us and do so much for us, and this is going to enhance their experience, and then for recruiting it puts us over the top.”
Men’s basketball coach Mark Fox echoed the sentiments of former Georgia star Dominique Wilkins — Stegeman Coliseum is now an arena.
“It’s not to the point where you feel like you’re playing in a whole new gym, but it has that point where you’re kind of starstruck at first,” Georgia forward Yante Maten said. “You’re like, ‘Wow, this is really my gym.’ It’s a great feeling.”
Fox, Taylor and volleyball coach Tom Black have already showed recruits the new facility.
“It’s going to have a huge impact and it already has as we have walked recruits through and tell them what this place is going to be like,” Black said. “That resonates. It’s already had a big impact and it’s only going to continue to grow.”
The renovations started in 2010 with a $13 million upgrade to the coliseum’s concourses (including adding space) and graphics. The recent renovation included two phases. The first added an HD scoreboard and mural on the east end of the arena. The second, which wrapped up the project, included the changes to the seats and the center-hung scoreboard, among other upgrades.
“We were very strategic in terms of when we wanted to attack the coliseum,” Robinson said. “You chart around the country, folks are building new, they’re renovating new. You look at the AC, the Big 10, our competitors in the SEC and we felt it was the right time to strike.”
Fox said the facility will be “an exciting selling point” in recruiting. Taylor has seen the impact in recruit’s reactions — they can picture themselves on the court and imagine themselves on the video board.
“We’re recruiting kids from all over the country who have been to a lot of places and when they walk in they’re like, ‘Wow,’” Taylor said.
The facility, which still seats 10,500 people, mirrors the trend in major arenas to dim the lights and put the focus on the floor, Robinson said. That led to the darker seats and the additional lights.
“We’re definitely at the top,” Robinson said. “We got the best bang for our buck here. It works for the coliseum, it works for the University of Georgia, it works for our athletes and coaches. We remind people in renovations, refurbishments and replacements you only have to do what works for you.”
For now, Robinson and coaches noted, the University of Georgia is leading the pack — at least until the next facility opens.
“As you post, our competitors are looking at this and probably want to one-up us,” Robinson said. “But as of now, we’re leading today.”