The new Nassau Coliseum will make an immediate college basketball splash next season with local flavor, national flair and the 2016 NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats. A pair of games will tip off a Long Island Hoops program that also includes plans to attract postseason conference tournaments and March Madness.
On opening night of the season, Nov. 11, Stony Brook will play Maryland. “For us to open the new Nassau Coliseum is a significant event for us,’’ Stony Brook director of athletics Shawn Heilbron said. “We want to expand our fan base across Long Island, and to play one of the powerhouse programs in the country is a great opportunity.”
Then, on Dec. 22, 2017, Hofstra will face Villanova, marking a reunion for Wildcats coach Jay Wright, who coached Hofstra from 1994-2001.
“We had some great games at the Coliseum when I was at Hofstra, defining games,” Wright said on the phone Sunday before his team played in the final of the Charleston (S.C.) Classic. He recalled beating St. John’s in front of a big crowd and had even stronger memories of an earlier game against Penn — a blowout loss. “That showed us how far we had to go,” he said.
As for next year’s date at the arena that officially will be known as the New Coliseum presented by New York Community Bank, Wright said: “To get a game on Long Island is always important to Villanova because we have a lot of alumni there. And Patty and I still have a lot of friends at Hof stra and in Rockville Centre, where we lived.”
It will be only his second coaching appearance on the Island since he left Hofstra. Villanova visited Stony Brook in 2006.
“He’s a good friend and he also played a big part in the success that Hofstra has had. He’s good for the game,” said Joe Mihalich, the Pride’s current coach and Wright’s fellow Philadelphia native.
“It’s going to be an absolutely fabulous venue,” Mihalich said of the Coliseum, which is visible from campus, “so to get a chance to play in there and a chance to play against the national champions is going to be a great experience for all of our kids. It’s also going to be a great event for the whole community — our students, fans and alumni and season-ticket holders.”
Brett Yormark, CEO of Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, which operates both Barclays Center and the new Coliseum, said there will be a continued commitment to college basketball in Uniondale.
“We’ve been very aggressive in pitching postseason tournaments, no different from what we’ve done at Barclays Center,” he said. “We have also been submitting several bids to the NCAA to bring the first and second rounds of the men’s college basketball tournament.”
The Coliseum has hosted The Big Dance before, including Villanova’s triple-overtime win over Northeastern in 1982.
Even in the regular season, Stony Brook coach Jeff Boals said, the arena will help the Seawolves “broaden the Stony Brook” brand and draw alumni who live in the city. The opener will showcase the debut of his first recruiting class, including center Anthony Ochefu, whose brother Daniel was a starter for Villanova’s title team.
The building will be on display, too. “I’ve toured it,” Heilbron said, “and it is definitely going to be a first-class facility.”