There’s a first time for everything, even for buildings nearing their 100th birthday.
For the first time in the history of the Palestra, College GameDay, ESPN’s weekly college basketball preview show, will be hosted by the 88 year-old arena that remains synonymous with the glory of Big 5 basketball.
As part of ESPN’s “My Home Court” series, a combination of videos and online articles celebrating some of the top venues in college basketball, the network reached a deal with Temple and La Salle to bring College GameDay to the Palestra this weekend.
The program, which has been on the air for several weekends every season since 2004, will be broadcast live from the court at the Palestra. After the show ends and a quick turnaround, ESPN will broadcast the first game of Saturday’s Big 5 doubleheader between Temple and La Salle at noon.
“ESPN approached us initially and asked us and another Big 5 school to do a home-and-home series with both of those games coming at the Palestra,” former Penn and current Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “That other team couldn’t do it for several reasons, but La Salle stepped into the fold.
“We told them that if they would agree to give up the home game and do it at the Palestra this season, then we could do it [in the 2014-15] season, and we couldn’t be happier to be doing it.”
Beginning early Saturday morning, fans with tickets to the La Salle-Temple matchup will be able to stand behind ESPN’s set of renowned basketball experts. A panel comprised of former Penn assistant Richard “Digger” Phelps, former Duke player Jay Bilas, former member of Michigan’s “Fab Five” and NBA star Jalen Rose and host Rece Davis will break down the day’s upcoming games.
“All college basketball fans watch College GameDay,” La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini said in a statement when the agreement was announced in August. “It’s a great honor and opportunity to be chosen from all the nation’s games to have ESPN’s coverage.”
The noon tip-off following GameDay will feature two teams currently heading in opposite directions.
Despite its successful campaign a season ago, one in which it reached the third round of the NCAA tournament, Temple (5-10, 2-0 Big 5) has struggled to find its groove all season. Though the Owls are undefeated in Big 5 play, they have dropped their last five contests overall.
The matchup with the Explorers (10-6, 1-1) marks a homecoming for Dunphy, who consistently brought Penn success at the Palestra during his tenure with the Quakers.
“Every time I get the chance to coach at the Palestra, I’m humbled,” Dunphy said. “For 17 years, I had the keys to the front door and basically ran the place. It’s always a little bit weird going back and not being in the home locker room like I was for so long, but we embrace the opportunity whenever it comes along.”
While the Owls have struggled this season, La Salle has looked every bit like the squad that reached the Sweet 16 last March of late. After sporting a .500 record through their first 12 contests, the Explorers have won four in a row, including their first three in Atlantic 10 conference play.
Junior forward Jerrell Wright and senior guards Tyrone Garland and Tyreek Duren will be key for La Salle. Wright notched 21 points when he played at the Palestra against Penn on Jan. 4, while Garland and Duren both average 13.8 points per game.
Regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s matinee and the Penn-St. Joe’s game that follows it, a Big 5 doubleheader, coupled with ESPN’s GameDay broadcast from the most historic arena in college basketball, could have enormous ramifications for all of the city’s basketball teams.
“Not only does this give us an opportunity to get Temple on television and help create a Temple brand, we’re able to promote the city of Philadelphia and create a brand of basketball that represents it,” Dunphy said. “Having GameDay at the Palestra and our game on ESPN, we know the long-term impact for our program and all of the Big 5 programs will be nothing but positive, especially in terms of recruiting in the future.”
“The nation will see a great game in the most historic building in all of college basketball between two strong and tradition-rich rivals,” Giannini added. “It will also show fans everywhere the unmatched uniqueness of Philadelphia Big 5 basketball.”