PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Hawk Hill is going dark.
Saint Joseph's was set to play its final regular-season game at the cozy - and antiquated - Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse on Thursday night before the gym closed for a season as part of a massive expansion plan. The Hawks will play their home games next season at the Palestra, the famed home of the Big 5 on Penn's campus, and hope to return to SJU for the 2009-10 season.
``The charm was wearing thin after a lot of years,'' said former Hawks player and coach Jack Ramsay. ``They needed a new facility. It will still retain some of the charm this building had.''
New locker rooms, coaches' offices, meeting areas, study space and 1,000 new seats are part of the upgrades expected over the $25 million renovation project. When the Hawks return home, the gym will be renamed the Michael J. Hagan '85 Arena. Hagan contributed $10 million to the renovation project.
The 3,200-seat gym - which hosted its first game on Nov. 26, 1949 - was famous for its raucous crowd and students close enough to the court they could touch their favorite player's sneakers. The Hawk mascot never stopped flapping its wings and the famed chant ``The Hawk Will Never Die!'' could overwhelm visiting teams not used to the steamy and intimate environment.
While visiting Hawk Hill was certainly one of the more unique experiences in college basketball, Saint Joseph's realized it had to flap its way into the 21st century. The facility is sorely outdated, with cramped locker rooms, a jammed lobby for fans and certainly no high-tech videoboard overhead to replay each fancy dunk. Coach Phil Martelli's office is not much bigger than an office cubicle and he was concerned about losing recruits to programs with state-of-the art equipment and player lounges, among other amenities.
Ramsay served as the honorary coach for Thursday's game against No. 8 Xavier and former Wooden Award winner Jameer Nelson, who plays for the Orlando Magic, was the honorary captain.
``In a few more years, I'll be coming home to a new home,'' Nelson said.
Former Hawks players and coaches like Jack McKinney, Jim Lynam, Mike Bantom and John Griffin were honored in a pregame ceremony.
``It's going to be even more joyous when we open it back up,'' said Bantom, who led the Hawks to three NCAA tournaments.
The Saint Joseph's women's team will play next season at Philadelphia University.
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