PINE BLUFF, Ark. (AP) -George Ivory stood in H.O. Clemmons Arena and got reacquainted with the home court of his Arkansas-Pine Bluff basketball team.
The Golden Lions will play their home opener on Saturday, more than two weeks into January. It's been anything but a normal season at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
``We had to help raise money for the athletic department,'' Ivory said. ``I said, 'We have to raise money, so I might as well let the guys see how it feels to play some Top 25 teams and see different parts of the country.'''
It's not uncommon for a small program to play on the road a lot in an attempt to earn revenue, but UAPB has taken tough scheduling to an extreme. The men's and women's teams each opened the season with 14 consecutive games away from home before this weekend's doubleheader against Southern.
went into January without a men's or women's home game, but they didn't go this far into the month.
Last season, the UAPB men played every nonconference game away from home, but at least they opened the Southwestern Athletic Conference schedule in Pine Bluff. Not this time: The Golden Lions were out of town for their first three SWAC games as well.
``It's been a long time coming,'' Ivory said. ``We can't wait to play Saturday.''
Athletic director Skip Perkins estimates the school has earned about $800,000 by playing all those road games, about a fourth of the athletic department's total revenue.
Still, he insists the decision to travel for every nonconference game wasn't all about money. UAPB is considered a threat to win the SWAC's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and Ivory wanted to test his team early.
So the Golden Lions opened their season at Colorado, then stuck around to play Denver two days later.
``We try to kill two birds with one stone,'' Perkins said.
UAPB has played mid-majors like Texas-El Paso and schools with bigger names like Michigan, Georgia Tech, Missouri and Kansas State.
UAPB lost every nonconference game, starting the season 0-11. But it has won two of its first three conference games.
s to get prepared for a game,'' Ivory said.
The UAPB women should have a good idea too. They started the season with five games in 10 days in four different states. They enter this weekend with the same 2-12 record as the men.
``It's been a challenge, a very difficult challenge at that,'' women's coach Cary Shelton said. ``All these teams are well coached and had really good players and facilities and everything. It was a real good experience.''
Yes, it's grueling. And yes, the players have taken their lumps.
``We feel as though we're not getting calls on the road and things like that. You're always ready to come back home and try to get things going your way,'' guard Terrance Calvin said. ``Losing is not fun, but it's fun traveling and seeing different places and just going out and competing with the top players in the country.''
Ivory is particularly impressed with one thing: He said about half his players have grade-point averages of at least 3.0.
``To see that happen - being on the road where we were here one day, gone another day, gone for six days,'' he said. ``I was very, very impressed.''
Now it's time to play out the conference season, against more manageable competition. After playing at Michigan and Missouri, the Golden Lions feel they're prepared for their SWAC slate.
``Going into those hostile environments really helped us a lot,'' Ivory said. ``So I don't think the road will hurt us a lot within the conference.''
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