Outsiders, including ESPN crew, enthused about Palestra spotlight

MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER La Salle coach John Giannini shares a funny moment with Tyrone Garland as they prepare for their game against Temple today at the Palestra.
MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER La Salle coach John Giannini shares a funny moment with Tyrone Garland as they prepare for their game against Temple today at the Palestra.
Posted: January 20, 2014

WHEN DIGGER Phelps brought his Notre Dame teams to Philadelphia to play in the Palestra, he did something every time. His team would yell "No. 1 Notre Dame," but instead of immediately breaking the huddle, he made his team listen to their voices echo throughout this cathedral of basketball.

He took a trip down memory lane yesterday, the day before ESPN's "College GameDay" hits the Palestra for the La Salle-Temple game at noon.

"To me, this good is as good as any," Phelps said. "When I walked in today, I yelled out 'No. 1.' I yelled out 'Villanova No. 1,' 'St. Joe's No. 1,' 'No. 1 Notre Dame,' just to listen to the acoustics and the echo. That's what made this place."

Phelps, along with the rest of "GameDay" crew have a sincere respect and admiration for the Palestra.

"It is one of the great arenas in the game's history," Jay Bilas said by phone Thursday. "Being able to bring 'College GameDay' there will shine a little bit of a spotlight on it. The best way to do it is to have more big games there."

Added Rece Davis: "I've never been here before; I have little connection with Philadelphia besides flying through the airport and growing up a Sixers fan, but I have pushed the show since it's second year in existence to come here. I think it is important to show the places where the history of the game is captured."

Following an afternoon break, Saint Joseph's and Penn will play at 7 p.m. This stretched-out doubleheader is a showcase of what the Big 5 used to be.

"The Big 5 was here, all the time," Phelps said. "Then Rollie [Massimino] decided to go to the Spectrum. That's what brought down the Big 5. To me, it was, 'Always play here in the Palestra.' Give it up. Especially the Big 5 games."

When Massimino and his Villanova team decided to play games in the Spectrum, it changed the Big 5 forever. Team built arenas on campus, and the culture of playing big games at the Palestra was somewhat forgotten.

"This is about money," Bilas said. "That's OK. There's nothing wrong with money. We all try to make money and make decisions based on money. These old arenas are great. They have a tremendous amount of history, but, at some point, the Dodgers left Ebbets Field and the Yankees built a new stadium. It happens. Things change."

Some people disagree with Bilas that it is OK, not only folks who grew up watching the Big 5 at the Palestra, but also people from the outside.

"We don't have enough games in the Palestra," said La Salle coach John Giannini, a Chicago native. "As an outsider, I am stunned at what a unique experience a neutral court, split-house Palestra rivalry game is. It is an unbelievable experience. I think all rivalry games should be there."

"I hope that all the schools see fit to do it occasionally," said Davis, who also is from Chicago. "Hopefully, every year. If not, at least every couple of years. It is not going to make anybody go broke. I would love to see that happen, and the fans of Philadelphia be able to enjoy that."

The fans of Philadelphia undoubtedly will pack the Palestra today and enjoy this daylong doubleheader, because who knows when the next one will be?


On Twitter: @AndrewJAlbert01

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