ARLINGTON, Texas (AP)—Video cameras were rolling when the No. 2 Texas Longhorns walked onto the court at Cowboys Stadium on Friday.
That is, the cameras held by most of the Texas players.
A day before taking on No. 10 North Carolina in the first basketball game at the $1.2 billion stadium, the Longhorns were awed by their first glimpse of the place where their football cohorts won the Big 12 championship two weeks ago and where the NBA All-Star game will be played in February.
Most of their oohs and aahs were directed at the video board that hangs over the court—every inch of it, and then some.
“It’s my first time ever feeling small,” said 6-foot-10 center Dexter Pittman, who used to weigh nearly 400 pounds. “I didn’t think that JumboTron was that big. I thought people were overexaggerating, but it’s huge!”
As big as the screens look for football games, it’s even more overwhelming for basketball.
Think about it: the TVs cover 60 yards of a 100-yard gridiron; they are almost twice the size of a 94-foot basketball court.
In fact, the entire platform that holds the court is 134 feet. The boards stretch 160 feet, leaving 12 more feet of screens on either end of the platform.
“I told (a team official) I didn’t want to play—just buy me a ticket to sit in the stands and I’ll watch it on the JumboTron,” Pittman said, laughing.
When the Cowboys first moved into the building, there was a lot of drama about whether the boards hung so low that they might get hit by a punt. Well, for basketball, they are so high above the court that a smaller set of screens have been installed so folks sitting close to the court don’t have to strain their necks. These temporary boards are “only” 15 feet-by-24 feet and hang from the giant boards.
The Longhorns (9-0) seemed glad to have taken the three-hour trip up from Austin to check out the new surroundings. They practiced on the court, too, in hopes of getting of a better feel for the massive environment.
The Tar Heels (8-2) opted to work out at home in Chapel Hill. They were flying in later Friday, with their first glimpse inside the building not coming until they arrive Saturday.
“There’s nothing unique about playing in a big building,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “We do that all the time. We played in a big building last year that was a third full and two-thirds empty when we played Michigan State (at Ford Field in Detroit).
“But from what I hear and what I’ve seen, there’s big buildings and then there’s Cowboys Stadium,” he continued. “That video board, I mean, I can’t hit a drive from one end of it to the other and I used to be able to hit the driver pretty good. … A lot of things are big in Texas. That’s got to be the biggest. I’d hate to have that in my bedroom.”
North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller has been watching Cowboys games and thinking about playing in the stadium and being shown on the scoreboard.
“It’s almost too big because it’s ridiculous,” he said. “But it’s definitely very cool and we’re looking forward to it.”
A heavily pro-Texas crowd of more than 35,000 is expected for this game, giving it the feel of an NCAA tournament game.
For the Tar Heels, that means more of the same. They’ve already played No. 3 Kentucky, No. 5 Syracuse, No. 12 Michigan State and No. 18 Ohio State, with only one of them at home. Williams said they really didn’t need another game of this magnitude, but it was hard to turn down this opportunity.
“They called us and told us Texas was going to play the first basketball game there and they wanted it to be North Carolina or Jerry Jones wanted it to be North Carolina or Roger Staubach wanted it to be North Carolina. That kind of thing,” Williams said. “Our team is probably not ready for that, knowing that we already had all those other games scheduled. But I said ‘What the heck?”’
For the Longhorns, this is the start of a two-game stretch aimed at preparing them for March. They play Michigan State at home on Tuesday.
“We’re treating this game like the national championship game. And the next game as the national championship game,” Pittman said. “I mean, we’re going to end up playing one of these teams in the tournament this year. Might as well go out there and play hard now and send a message.”
Guard Jai Lucas will be making his Texas debut. The son of former NBA star John Lucas, transferred after starting 36 games for Florida as a freshman in 2007-08.
The Tar Heels are hoping to have senior Marcus Ginyard back from a foot injury, but they’re less certain about freshman Dexter Strickland (hamstring). Ginyard added a sprained pinkie to his list of injuries, but Williams said it wasn’t very serious.
Cowboys Stadium already has been chosen to host the Final Four in 2014, and will have the regional round of the tournament in 2013. For now, the only other basketball game scheduled is the All-Star game. NBA officials have been in town all week, learning their way around the stadium and monitoring the conversion from a Cowboys game on Sunday to a basketball court by Wednesday.
“It certainly benefits the NBA,” Cowboys spokesman Brett Daniels said, “but it wasn’t scheduled as a dress rehearsal.”
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, N.C., contributed to this report.