#rushthetrip Day 16: Marriott Center Experience Uniquely Amazing

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on February 22nd, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

With Thursday night’s visit to Provo for Gonzaga vs. BYU, the trip was poised to wrap up much like it had started 16 days ago in The Pit – in one of college basketball’s loudest and greatest gymnasiums. BYU’s Marriott Center is the sixth largest home arena in the country and is oft-described as one of the toughest places to play out West. Still, though, I was unsure of what to expect. My curiosity/ignorance extended beyond the Marriott Center to both the university and Provo; the Mormon presence in town (98% LDS) would obviously be influential, but where exactly would the manifestations of faith appear in this college town – and college basketball atmosphere?

BYU's Marriott Center Has Long Been Considered An Unwelcoming Locale For Visitors, But Could It Still Be Underrated? I Vote Yes.

BYU’s Marriott Center Has Long Been Considered An Unwelcoming Locale For Visitors, But Could It Still Be Underrated? I Vote Yes.

Everyone was extremely nice in town. Provo is not the first place I’ve made this observation about, but the kindness here is ubiquitous enough to disarm someone unused to it (me). It didn’t matter if they were pumping gas or cleaning hotel rooms — everyone seemed legitimately happy with whatever it was they were doing at the time I ran across them. While it did feel a bit contrived at times, the friendliness was refreshing and welcomed by a weary traveler nearing the end of his journey.

After a day of familiarizing myself with the affable denizens of Provo, I entered the Marriott Center expecting 20,000 of the most genteel college basketball fans you could find. Boy, was I wrong. I don’t want to say that the BYU faithful offered the most aggressive display of ref-riding I’ve ever seen, but they didn’t miss the mark by much. There were a couple of shaky pro-Gonzaga calls early, but the Cougars wound up +5 in free throw attempts, and Gonzaga bigs Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski managed only 20 and 19 minutes, respectively, due to foul trouble. So while I didn’t find significant merit in the boisterous shouts of the fans, their relentlessness was both admirable and effective. More than anything else, home court advantage is for shifting close decisions from the referees in favor of your team; I cannot imagine an official being unaffected in the environment I witnessed there. I’m no Mormon, but I’m now pretty confident that LDS doctrines must not include any prohibition relating to the verbal treatment of basketball referees.

Overall, the atmosphere was amazing. BYU earned a much-needed and hard-fought victory over new-nemesis Gonzaga, so I definitely didn’t pick the wrong night to visit. Without a doubt, the Marriott Center has jumped on to my short list of must-see college basketball venues, despite the absence of anything special or flashy about the building itself, and next to nothing that makes Provo a college town worth visiting. I would never recommend a trip to Provo without BYU athletics attached, but the town’s insular nature deserves much of the credit for creating the feverish intensity that defined the mood at the game. College alumni are always proud of the school from which they graduated, but BYU students and graduates share an alma mater more personally defining than most universities, and that self-identification spills into an overflowing amount of school spirit. No frills are necessary at the Marriott Center (although I did enjoy the snazzy pregame introductions) – just jam a lot of people with a lot of passion for BYU basketball into one building, and voila – out comes a home court advantage capable of raising jealousy in even the most fervent of college basketball hotbeds.

There were other distinguishing features to the game experience – I’d never seen a pregame prayer, for example, and press row completely chucked neutrality out the door in actively rooting for the Cougars, especially down the stretch. The latter dynamic can be a slippery slope, but I actually found some measure of appreciation for it on this night – further evidence that, for Provo residents, supporting BYU athletics may arrive from nature more than it does choice. It’s an interesting town for sure, and while I wouldn’t offer it to anyone seeking a new residence, college hoops fans could do far worse than to swing by on a night where the Cougars are taking to the Marriott Center floor. At the very least, you will find one of college athletics’ most unique devotions, and on a night like last night, potentially much, much more.

Next Stop: My Bed

BHayes (244 Posts)

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4 responses to “#rushthetrip Day 16: Marriott Center Experience Uniquely Amazing”

  1. Sidney Sperry says:

    I really enjoyed the article Provo is still living in 60s in many aspects.
    I grew up a UCLA fan and the Merriott Center is an amazing venue,

    When they drop the Sheets frome all 4 corners of the Score Board and project BYUs greatest moments in history in not only unique but it sets the stage in the atmosphere of things to come.

    I disagree on one aspect if anyone ever wants to go skiing 20 minutes from BYUs campus is a ski resort called Sundance Robert Redford owns it and runs the Sundance film festival from it. The ski resort is the most beautiful in the State of Utah and is a must Ski.

  2. Provo is somewhat like most smaller towns (100,000) or less except there are few places to get alchohol. BUT, for an astute traveler there is plenty more to see and do than in towns even larger. 1- You missed a world-class art exhibition on the great paintings of 3 great artists from Denmark, and Germany. Never before shown outside of the churches that loaned them. 2- Next to the Marriott Center is an excellent natural history museum. Very well done. 3- Tour BYU campus courtesy of a private guide supplied by the University & a golf cart — it’s quite large. 4- One of the largest historical printing museums on Center street — Gutenberg press included. 5- You might have caught a hockey game at the indoor rink or gone ice skating on Utah Lake. 6- Provo is a staging area for more than 8 world-class ski resorts less than one hour away. 7- Thanksgiving Point (15 minutes away) has a top rate dinosaur exhibit and if you have kids, they have hours of fun in the interactive exhibits. 8- Provo’s new indoor swimming and water slide center is huge. 9- Riverwoods has a decent surfing center. Ride the waves. 10- Of course it has plenty of sedate activity places like 40 or so movie screens, malls, a couple of bowling alleys, etc.

    That’s enough to keep anyone entertained unless sloshing in suds is the limit of one’s entertainment criteria.

  3. Californian says:

    Thanks for telling people its not a place you would want to live or recommend living. There are too many here already and it isn’t helping that it is becoming the next Silicon Valley with all of the tech companies coming to the area. Unfortunately they don’t agree with you.

  4. BHayes says:

    Thanks for the responses. When it comes to these road trips, I’ll certainly admit to rarely having enough time to fully appreciate every town I stop it. The nature of the beast is that I’m usually moving along to my next stop all too quickly, so consider these quick snapshots more than anything else.

    That being said, I did find Provo (and all of the Greater Salt Lake Area) to be beautiful. In fact, I’m not sure there’s a prettier American city out there. I wish I’d emphasized that more in the post, but felt like I was beating a dead horse after noting the scenery on prior trips to Logan and Salt Lake City.

    Mark — I hear you on all the things to do in the Provo area, and like I said — I rarely have the time to fully enjoy everything a town/city has to offer on these trips. Good, fun restaurants and bars are a part of my evaluation because they allow me, an outsider, the opportunity to mingle with locals. The equation definitely changes if you are a local and not a lonely soul wandering town to town :), but it’s the social opportunities that those types of establishments offer that aid in a town’s amenability to visitors, at least in my mind. And again, I may have been looking in the wrong places, but I found Provo to be a little lacking in this regard.

    And Californian: Only my opinion! I noticed the Google Fiber presence downtown and thought that was very cool, and from talking to a few folks, it does seem like Provo is becoming more and more diverse. For me, Salt Lake City would be the place if I were going to move to the area, but again — just my take.

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