Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Anyone who saw the leg injury Indiana Pacers guard Paul George suffered, whether live in the Thomas & Mack Center on Aug. 1 or via video on one of the YouTube replays that have combined to accumulate more than 5 million views, won’t soon forget it. Many won’t forget where it happened, either.
During a Team USA scrimmage, George contested a shot and landed with his foot caught at an angle with the stanchion supporting the basket. The result was a fractured leg for George and a lot of conversations about the stanchion’s close proximity to the baseline, something that facility operators recently responded to with new baskets that have the base of the stanchion more than two feet farther from the court.
“That injury obviously played a part in our thinking,” said Mike Newcomb, executive director of the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Rebels return home tonight for a 7 p.m. tip against Fresno State in their second game playing with the new hoops. The first was last week’s 11-point victory against Air Force. Tonight’s game will stream on ESPN3.
The new hoops are one change to the Mack’s gameday experience, and another could be coming in the offseason. Specifically, UNLV has had discussions about reconfiguring seating so that UNLV’s opponents would shoot toward the student section during the second half.
“It just makes sense,” said UNLV Athletic Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy.
First, the baskets.
UNLV’s previous hoops were purchased from the NBA after the 2007 All-Star Game at the Mack. They had eight-foot posts connecting the backboard to the base, which sat about four feet from the baseline.
Hundreds of games had been played on the court before and dozens more after George’s injury, which Team USA, the Pacers and even George publicly admit was just a freak occurrence. But Newcomb knew exactly what would happen when July rolled around and the NBA Summer League returned to the Mack.
Questions of safety would come up, and while the NBA has publicly said it doesn’t blame the arena for what happened, it certainly doesn’t want to appear to put its players in danger. Rather than have those conversations with the league or Team USA, Newcomb said, he figured why not just make it safer while avoiding those talking points.
“They never said we’re not coming back, but we felt let’s not even make that an option,” Newcomb said.
Newcomb purchased four new baskets — two for the Mack, two for Cox Pavilion — for $60,000 total. They’re made by Spalding, the same company the NBA uses and the same as UNLV’s previous sets, and they have 10-foot posts that put the base of the stanchion about six and a half feet from the baseline.
The change is of little consolation to the Pacers or George, who has been rehabilitating and recently said it’s possible he could return this season. But in case there were any hard feelings behind closed doors toward the facility, the baskets should help relationships moving forward.
No matter how far away the base of that basket is from the court, though, UNLV opponents see the same thing behind the backboard in the second half of games: A wall of Mac logos in the media section while students wave signs at the opposite end of the court.
UNLV’s setup, with opponents shooting toward the students in the first half, is a rarity in college basketball. Most arenas that feature a student section only at one side or the other place the home bench opposite that section so that the away team is going into what should be the most hostile area during the game’s most critical moments.
“It’d be great to have a traditional setup,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice.
Kunzer-Murphy said the topic has already been discussed in a couple of meetings and will get looked at more thoroughly in the offseason. The benches wouldn’t be switched without considerable feedback from the season ticket holders behind UNLV’s area, and the more likely change might be moving the media section somewhere else and turning that breakaway section into a special seating area.
What that means exactly is still being discussed, but if there’s enough interest, Kunzer-Murphy would like to make that a student section in addition to keeping some student seating in its current location.
“That would be my ideal,” she said.
Rice wants to make sure season-ticket holders, some who’ve been coming to games since he was a player, are heard. But it’s clear whatever change might occur will be made with the idea of using the students as more of a home-court advantage.
“I’m open to anything,” Rice said. “I love the fact that we’re developing a great student section and the Rebellion has been fantastic for us, and as we grow our program I think that’s a big part of it.”