JONESBORO — The Convocation Center just got a little bit cozier.
For more than 25 years, courtside railings along the bottom row have separated Arkansas State basketball fans from the intensity that flows from the court at the arena. Thanks to new ASU athletic director Terry Mohajir, the game-day experience is about to get significantly more fan friendly.
Starting with tonight’s home opener against Arkansas-Monticello, the metal railings around the bottom of court have been removed and they won’t return if Mohajir has anything to do with it.
Mohajir said it’s one of the first of many subtle details planned to improve the atmosphere at ASU events.
“We don’t need barriers between the court and the fans, period,” Mohajir said. “This is for the fan, for the fan experience. This is for everyone, the fans and the players. The fans feel closer to the court, there’s no barrier and it gives us a better homecourt advantage.”
Tipoff for tonight’s matchup between ASU and Arkansas-Monticello is 7:05 p.m.
Arkansas State won its first two exhibitions by large margins with Mohajir in the stands.
During those exhibitions Mohajir moved from one section to another throughout the facility to get a feel for things. What he noticed was how the railings disrupted the view and the quality of the product overall.
“There’s not another college basketball arena or in the NBA that has rails in front of the first row,” Mohajir said. “I came from the most hallowed basketball facility in America and they literally can put their toe on the court. This is for the fans, so they’re closer to the court and the experience.”
Arkansas State coach John Brady, long a proponent of improving the game day experience in the Convocation Center, is thrilled with the change. He hopes to see a few more down the road, too.
“I’ve heard several complaints from fans since I’ve been here that we’re not as family friendly or fan friendly as our fans would like,” Brady said. “Doing something like this will help with that. If the administration makes the decision to take the rails down, I’m all for it.”
And, according to Mohajir, more changes are coming.
One of them will be the opening of sideline seating across from the teams.
ASU radio and the statistics crew will remain in their current spots while local media will be moved to the baseline. Visiting media and others will be moved to the upper level, most likely in one of the corners.
Mohajir wants to put fans as close to the court as possible and change the culture at ASU basketball games.
“When I got this job, I told everybody that I was going to try to increase the fan experience,” Mohajir said. “Just doing the little things like this helps fans feel like they’re closer to the action. It’s just one subtle detail of many to come.”
Arkansas State (0-1) enters tonight’s contest looking for its first win.
The Red Wolves suffered a 74-61 setback in the opener at Dayton on Saturday, allowing the Flyers to shoot 53 percent. ASU held its own in almost every other facet, according to Brady, but the defense was unacceptable.
“Regardless of whether we had good effort or good technique or anything like that, you can’t give up 50 percent shooting anywhere and have a chance to win,” Brady said. “We need to get to where we’re a team that can shoot poorly and still win. When you give up 50 percent defensively, you put a lot of pressure on your offense to produce.”
Arkansas State will stick with its same starting five, although the bench rotation will change.
With freshman Cameron Golden struggling, senior Ed Townsel moved to point guard for the second half against Dayton. But Townsel will stay at shooting guard and sophomore Rakeem Dickerson will fill in for Golden when necessary.
Townsel scored 22 and 18 points in ASU’s two exhibitions but was held to 14 against the Flyers.
Brady said Townsel is too valuable to have him switch positions and Dickerson has earned some minutes.
“When Ed goes to the point, it restricts what we need out of him,” Brady said. “We need him to make baskets and run around with some freedom.”
Junior forward Seth Kisler has sat out two weeks and remains unavailable. Kisler took an elbow to the head in practice and has not played since.
With Kisler out indefinitely, freshman Raeford Worsham will move to power forward.
Brady said Worsham has been impressive in limited action and the interior needs help after Dayton outscored ASU 30-18 in the paint.
“He’s active and he’s long,” Brady said. “He played that position in high school a great deal, so I think he’ll give us a little more depth on that front line.”
Arkansas-Monticello (1-0) is a Division II school and member of the Great American Conference. UAM opened its season with an 87-65 win over Champion Baptist last Friday.
Tonight’s contest is counted as an exhibition for the Boll Weevils, who are led by junior guard Michael Maya and senior guard Kori Forge. Maya scored 21 points while Forge pumped in 17 in the opener.
Former Manila standout Kam Ashabranner, a 6-foot-4 guard, came off the bench to score six points and grab seven rebounds. He is expected to play significant minutes.
The last time the two teams met was in an exhibition in 2004 when the Boll Weevils pulled out a surprising 71-66 win. They’ll be greeted by a crowd that’s a little closer to the court this time.
“I was told that these rails have been up for 25 years,” Mohajir said. “Being wrong for 25 years is not a good answer.”