Neville Arena upgrades will help Auburn keep pace with facilities arms race

AUBURN, Alabama — Thanks in large part to the largest donation in Auburn athletics history, Bruce PearlThe program can keep pace with the Joneses of college basketball facilities.

On Friday afternoon, Auburn Arena officially became Neville Arena, dedicated to Bill and Connie Neville, who provided the aforementioned donation. And within the Tigers’ new training ground will soon be a new practice facility — long on Pearl’s wish list for his Auburn program.

The Nevilles’ donation helped advance the process of finalizing Auburn’s plans for a new Auburn men’s and women’s basketball practice gymnasium, as well as an upgrade to “team spaces” at the arena. The motion was approved in early February by Auburn’s board of directors.

There is currently no timeline for the project and a price has yet to be officially disclosed.

“Look: I’ve spent so many years in Division II, I’m not really complaining,” Pearl said Friday after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “The problem was really our student-athletes. When you have men’s and women’s basketball, and volleyball here full time, and only two courts – and you bring gymnastics, and you have visiting teams coming in, concerts, discounts awards and community events. It is the busiest building on campus.

Auburn’s men’s and women’s hoops currently share a practice gymnasium, adjacent to Auburn Arena’s main ground, providing teams with a pair of basketball courts to practice on. As Pearl noted, Auburn Arena is the primary home ground for four major sports at the university, and visiting teams in those respective sports are also offered practice time in the arena.

“I really can’t say to prospects, ‘Yeah, you can come anytime you want to try your luck,'” Pearl said. “Most people in our league can. When we have built this training center, I will be able to say the same thing. And that’s important for training.

Ahead of the 2019-20 season, Auburn spent $3 million upgrading its men’s and women’s locker rooms, and adding additional meeting space and a “team long area.”

Prior to the 2020-21 season, the athletic department purchased and installed a new Daktronics scoreboard for Auburn Arena, featuring a 72-foot wraparound LED video screen.

Pearl, Auburn Athletic Director Allen Greene, Auburn President Jay Gogue, Executive Associate Athletic Director Tim Jackson spoke before the official opening of the arena Friday afternoon before a host of special events .

“They do us the honor of honoring them,” Pearl said. “Bill and Connie are wonderful people – as good as they come. For them to be so generous and to make that investment in all of our student-athletes is very, very important.

Pearl’s team will cut the nets after Game 1 at Neville Arena, after the Tigers won a share of the SEC regular season championship this week.

“I was very moved when I saw the lettering and it made it all feel real,” Connie Neville said. “We’ve been coming to this arena since they built it and it was maybe a quarter full – hardly anyone there. But we were there and tried to fill the space with our screams as much as we could.

“We love it so much. And having this group of coaches, Bruce Pearl, this team – they’re just the best people. They’re the best boys, our players. … We love being here. We love Auburn, and that was truly a special day to share with our family and so many of our friends.

Auburn Arena opened 12 years ago, officially replacing the Beard-Eaves Coliseum, where the Tigers had played since 1969, before the 2010-11 season.

The $86 million site is the smallest by capacity in the SEC, but over the past five or six seasons it has earned a reputation as one of the toughest — and noisiest — places to go. play in all of college basketball. The success Pearl has brought to the program is directly tied to the energy of Auburn’s home games, with an overall record of 120-42 since the start of the 2017-18 season.

The Tigers’ home court advantage has led to a 77-9 record inside Auburn Arena since 2017-18 — and that includes last season, when Auburn finished 11th in the SEC and lost five home games.

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