Old-school: Texas to face Sam Houston State for first game at Gregory Gym in 44 years
For those no longer on campus, Texas-Sam Houston State game on LHN; Party starts at 4:30 p.m., game at 7:30 p.m.
Think the Erwin Center is bad? Texas’ first basketball gymnasium, a rickety structure built in 1916, burned to the ground. School officials were relieved that Sunday morning in March 1928. The firetrap was gone.
As it turned out, the gym fire boosted a fundraising project started by former U.S. Attorney General T.W. Gregory, one of the university’s first 13 graduates.
Gregory Gym opened in 1930 at the estimated cost of $500,000. Texas knocked off North Texas 34-33 in the first men’s basketball game there on Dec. 5, 1930. The Horns played at Gregory until 1977, when the Erwin Center opened.
On Monday, the Horns are going back in time for the first game at Gregory in 44 years. Texas (4-1) will play Sam Houston State (2-4) in a throwback game to which only UT students are invited.
“Just so many reasons why to do it,” UT coach Chris Beard said. “I think it’s going to be awesome.”
Monday’s game is part of Beard’s aggressive outreach to get students excited about men’s basketball. He has total belief that Texas can’t have an intimidating home game atmosphere — be it at the Erwin Center or the Moody Center next season — without a raucous student section. He wants students heavily involved.
Give the coach credit: Beard is going far beyond anything previous coaches ever did to get UT students excited about basketball.
Starting at 4:30 p.m. Monday, the men’s basketball program will host a party at the UT Tower to thank students for coming to the season opener against Houston Baptist. The party will run until 6 p.m.
“Just like all parties in my day, you’d kind of come to a party kind of casually late. Same consistency here in 2021. Same situation,” Beard said.
“Beverages. Let you kind of print that however you want,” he added. “Music. Stuff for the students. Giveaways. Free food. Entertainment. Myself, some of the coaches and some of the players will be at the party before the game. It’s that important to us.”
Then after 6, students will be guided down East 21st Street to Gregory Gym. Students with a valid UT ID will get a wristband for free entry into Gregory. The first 2,000 students will receive a retro Texas basketball shirt and free Stubb’s barbecue.
“I really hope all the students come out to our game at Gregory,” guard Andrew Jones said, looking directly into a bank of TV cameras. “It's going to be our first time playing a true game there in a while, and we really need y'all's support.”
Beard even has a plan for anybody who wants to camp out at Gregory. Those at the front of the line can get a wristband, go to the party at the Tower and not lose their spots in line, he said.
On the face of it, how can this be anything but incredible? Gregory Gym’s basketball configuration holds 3,234 fans. It should be packed tight down the lines, and as anyone who attends UT volleyball games knows, it gets awfully loud in there.
Behind the scenes, Texas athletics had the usual red-tape scheduling battles with the UT campus. Technically, Gregory Gym is controlled by campus administrators and not the athletic department.
NCAA Division I basketball games have specific rules. The floor requires special taping to mask some of the volleyball lines. The two baskets coming from the Erwin Center must be totally disassembled since there’s no door big enough to squeeze them through.
“All the throwback games have challenges,” said Beard, who has organized games like this at his previous schools. “One year we didn’t have running water in the locker room. The officials, they’re not going to get their five-star-plus accommodations they’re used to around here. You know, we’re taking basketball back.
“It’s going to be more like ‘Hoosiers’ than it’s going to be an NBA arena,” he said.
This game was purposely excluded from the season ticket package since it would be held at Gregory for students. It will be televised on the Longhorn Network for everybody else. And yes, it counts on a team’s win-loss record like any other game.
Texas was 383-160 in games at Gregory from 1930 to 1977. The last UT men’s game played there was a 72-70 loss to Baylor in the first round of the 1977 Southwest Conference Tournament.
“I appreciate the season-ticket holders and people’s understanding,” Beard said. “Everybody won’t be able to get into this game, obviously. But I think everybody will be able to feed on the excitement of this.”
In Beard’s mind, this is the first of many student-only games to come, even when UT moves into the Moody Center next season.
“We’re proud to put this on the floor of the first year,” Beard said, “and hopefully that people appreciate all the work that went into putting this game on.”