CHICAGO – It took two-plus seasons, but the Roosevelt men's basketball team is back where it belongs: home.
The Lakers played their very first on-campus contest at the brand-new Lillian and Larry Goodman Center in downtown Chicago on Saturday afternoon, defeating Trinity Christian by a final of 69-60 in front of an energetic capacity crowd of Roosevelt fans.
Tyree York led the way with a triple-double, scoring 13 points, dishing out a career-high 14 assists and pulling down 11 rebounds for the Lakers (6-3, 4-3 CCAC), who won their fifth straight game.
Saturday's game was the grand opening of the Goodman Center, a two-floor multipurpose athletic facility at the southeast corner of Wabash and Congress in the Loop. The new buiding will serve as the home to the Roosevelt men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams' games and practices, and the facility will eventually house activities and offices for all Roosevelt athletic programs and operations upon full completion in the spring of 2013. Intramural and University events and outside rentals will also take place there.
Prior to Saturday, the Roosevelt basketball teams practiced and played home games at three different gyms over the course of the past two seasons and the first month of the current campaign. The Lakers conducted their inaugural season at IIT's Keating Center on Chicago's south side in 2010-11, and last year the Attack Athletics facility on the city's west side served as the Lakers' temporary residence. Last month the Lakers played two miles from campus at UIC's Physical Education Building.
Emotions were running high for Roosevelt head coach Joe Griffin because of this monumental day in the program's history and having a permanent place to play.
"My wife says I don't cry enough, and she's right, but I had to contain myself all throughout today and yesterday," said Griffin, hired in the summer of 2009 as Roosevelt's first head men's basketball coach. "My stomach was in knots because this was the culmination of a dream come true. For three years we persisted and stuck through not having a home court.
"Good things come to those who wait and work hard," Griffin said. "Our kids have bought into that, and I'm just happy for everybody at Roosevelt University."
With high energy filling the gym, Roosevelt started the game strong. The Lakers scored nine of the contest's first 11 points, wrapping a 9-2 start when York swished in a trey.
The Lakers went up by as many as 14 prior to intermission, thanks to Denson's mid-range jumper frequently finding its mark and Jackson tallying tough points in the paint.
Trinity Christian (2-7, 2-6 CCAC) would not go away quietly and let Roosevelt enjoy opening day at the Goodman Center without a fight. Paced by BJ Wortham's game-high 23 points, the Trolls battled back from a 19-point deficit to get to within seven with just under two minute left in regulation.
The Lakers would seal the deal and send the fans home happy from Roosevelt's new abode, as Kyle Miklasz hit a dagger from downtown with 1:02 on the clock to quell the Trinity Christian comeback attempt.
Griffin thought his team came out with a beneficial amount of intensity and energy for the new gym.
"I'd rather be overaggressive then underaggressive," said Griffin. "I'd rather us make a mistake by overcompensating than by being tentative or reluctant. I don't think we were too amped because we got out to a nice lead and sustained a 13- to 17-point lead throughout the whole game.
"Give Trinity Christian credit," Griffin continued. "They scrapped. They drove by us, hit threes. If a couple of their shots go in, we're probably still playing right now in double overtime."
Roosevelt University President Dr. Charles R. Middleton addressed the crowd before the start of the game to welcome everyone in attendance to the Goodman Center. Dr. Middleton gave a special thanks to Mike Elkins, Executive Director of the Cebrin Goodman Center, and his wife, Dale, who were in attendance representing the Lillian and Larry Goodman Foundations. Mr. Goodman made the lead gift to build the Goodman Center, which is named after him and his late wife.
Patti Eylar, the wife of Roosevelt trustee Charles R. Gardner, presented the game ball for the opening tip of the contest. The couple's support of the Goodman Center project is honored on the facility's hardwood, which is recognized as The Patti Eylar/Charles R. Gardner Court.
Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Mike Cassidy also spoke prior to the game to honor everyone who made the new facility and Roosevelt Athletics possible.
When asked about how the opening of the new arena affects the team going forward, Griffin stated he wanted to keep the players, staff and entire program focused.
"Stick to the plan," said Griffin. "Stick to our collective vision. Stick to our values of our program. Stay even-keeled. That guides us through the good and the bad. Don't get too high tonight because we have a good Olivet team coming in on Monday. Don't get too low when we incur more obstacles in our path. Treat people the right way, work hard, develop kids and recruit great student-athlete. Develop good people.
"I just think the sky's the limit for our program and our school."
Now the Lakers can reach the sky from the comforts of home.
The Lakers host CCAC rival Olivet Nazarene this Monday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. inside the Lillian and Larry Goodman Center.