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In 1979 a new basketball facility was completed on the UC Santa Barbara campus.
In its early days the building was known simply as The Campus Events Center. Eventually that was shortened to "The ECen."
With the arrival of Jerry Pimm as head coach in 1983, things began to change for Gaucho Basketball. The level of success began to rise. The crowds began to grow. By 1986 the program and its facility had earned a new identity. The team was now known as a winner. The Events Center had become "The Thunderdome."
Forget Mel Gibson, this Thunderdome is not kind to road warriors.
UCSB's Thunderdome has quickly become one of the wildest and noisiest basketball palaces in the country. The 6,000 seat arena is now considered one of the most effective homecourt advantages in college basketball.
"This is as good an atmosphere as you'll find for college basketball," said former UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian. "I don't believe there's anyplace in the country better than this."
Considering the lion's dens that Tark took his Rebels to, his is the work of an authority.
Tom Odjakjian, the Program Manager at ESPN and the man in charge of scheduling college basketball, explains the appeal of The Thunderdome from television's standpoint.
"I think The Thunderdome ranks right up there with Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke as one of the great college basketball arenas in the country," said Odjakjian. "We (ESPN) love doing games from The Thunderdome. The proximity of the students to the court, the loudness and the enthusiasm make The Thunderdome a fabulous college basketball showcase. If I had to pick the three best places in the nation in terms of noise and enthusiasm they would be Duke, UCSB, and Rutgers."
Here are some other views on UCSB's Thunderdome:
"This was a tremendous place to play. This is one of the loudest places I have ever played in, anywhere. We just don't play in places like this on the West Coast. It was like being back in the Big Ten for a night." - Bill Frieder, former head coach of Arizona State and former head coach of the University of Michigan.
"We've played in a number of great arenas and this is one of them. The crowd and the entire atmosphere is outstanding for college basketball. This is one of the noisiest and toughest places we have ever played in." - Randy Ayers, former head coach of Ohio State.
"Hey, The Thunderdome experience was a great one. There is no place that we played that even came close to matching it. We (the players) had a special relationship with the fans. They were wild and crazy and they were one of the reasons that my experience at UCSB was such a super one." - Eric McArthur, former UCSB All-American.
"The noise in here is at least the equivalent of an airplane firing its engines for takeoff. This is unbelievable. I can't even hear myself." - Barry Tompkins, ESPN announcer during a UCSB-UNLV game.
"Intimidated? Hay, I've played in The Dean Dome (North Carolina), in The Carrier Dome (Syracuse) and in that place called The Thunderdome out on the West Coast. No way I'm intimidated." - This from former Boston University guard Steven Key, when asked if he was intimidated at the thought of playing the University of Connecticut in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Hartford Civic Center, one of the Huskies' home courts.
"A lot of people don't realize that we play in a lot of tough places. I'd like to see some of these other teams have to go to Santa Barbara and play in the Thunderdome. After you've been insulted in Santa Barbara, Barnhill (Arkansas) is nothing." - former UNLV point guard and New York Knicks first round pick Greg Anthony after UNLV had beaten Arkansas in a showdown between the top two teams in the country during the 1990-91 season, in Arkansas.
"That is a tough place to play. Nice weather and a beautiful part of the country, but boy, that Thunderdome, what a place to play." - Tom Penders, former University of Texas head coach.