With the move up to the NCAA Division I this season, UMass Lowell’s men’s and women’s basketball teams will be playing on a bigger stage – both athletically and on the court. The teams will mark their inaugural Division I season in 2013-14 by playing five of their home games at the Tsongas Center, one of the premier sports venues in the region and long home to River Hawks men’s ice hockey.
The games are possible thanks to the new Kennedy Family Court at the Tsongas Center. Dedicated in late November, the court is named in honor of alumnus John Kennedy (LTI ’70) and his family. A longtime supporter of campus athletics and academics, Kennedy was the recipient of this year’s James T. Smith Award
, a lifetime achievement award that is presented to an individual connected to the UMass Lowell athletic program.
When it comes to basketball, Kennedy is emphatic about the benefits a first-rate program can bring.
“Basketball is a national sport with a broad audience,” he says. “With basketball, there is tremendous potential impact for UMass Lowell.” Participation in NCAA tournaments, for instance, can bring national exposure for players, the programs and the school, he says.
The process of building competitive Division I men’s and women’s teams is well under way and the foundation for both programs is the Tsongas Center. Loaded with amenities, including a state-of-the-art sound system and video board, function rooms and suites, the venue is vital to recruiting efforts. The men’s team will play three games there this season, starting with a match up against Duquesne University on Dec. 21. Both teams will play doubleheaders against America East Conference rivals the University of New Hampshire on Jan. 26 and Stony Brook University on Feb. 15.
“The Tsongas Center is the first thing we show prospects. It is absolutely pivotal to our long-term success,” says Pat Duquette
, men’s basketball head coach.
“When you have recruits on campus, the Tsongas Center sells itself,” says Sarah Behn, women’s basketball head coach. “The venue elevates every part of the game. It feels like the big time because it is the big time.”
The venue not only appeals to student athletes but also to fans, a critical element in creating a successful program.
“The Tsongas Center is fantastic. There’s not a bad sight line in the building, you can get a bite to eat, there’s easy access and parking. It’s a great place for a young family to watch a national-caliber game,” says Kennedy.
Looking ahead, strong support from alumni, students, faculty, staff and sports fans throughout the region is critical for the basketball programs to flourish, says UMass Lowell director of athletics Dana Skinner.
“Thanks to the support of John Kennedy and others, we now gave a first-class venue for basketball,” says Skinner. “The next step is to continue our forward momentum by upgrading the locker room and training facilities needed for our coaches to recruit high-quality Division I student-athletes.”
Kennedy agrees that support beyond campus will be key to creating the environment needed to build successful Division I basketball programs at UMass Lowell.
“The community has to embrace the basketball program as they have hockey,” says Kennedy.