College basketball: So what's the deal with Oregon's new floor?
Heard about the floor at Oregon's new $200-million Matthew Knight Arena? Kilkenny Floor, as it's called? Of course you have. You've probably tweeted about it, either in favor or in protest, but still with your head cocked, trying to understand what in the name of Nike is going on with that hardwood.
That's because Kilkenny Floor, which made its television debut Thursday night when the arena hosted the Ducks and USC, is to college basketball what Boise State's "Smurf Turf" is to college football.
It's impressive. It's wacky. And it's over the top, which isn't anything new for Oregon since Nike co-founder Phil Knight is more than happy to pump millions back into his alma mater to buy it state-of-the-art everything. (Don't get me started on the football team's locker rooms...)
For background purposes, the arena is named after Knight's late son, who died at the age of 34 in a scuba diving accident. The "MATT" logo near center court is in honor of him. It is shaped in the form of a Japanese torii, known as an entrance to a sacred place or shrine, and it's curved at the top, Knight said, in honor of Matt's smile.
The floor is named after former athletic director and current donor Pat Kilkenny, and it was designed by Todd Van Horne, a creative services director at Nike, and Nike design vice president and Oregon alum Tinker Hatfield, the legendary sneaker designer most known for the "Air Jordan" designs.
And the floor itself showcases a brown-and-tan silhouette of a fir tree forest, a common site in the Pacific Northwest but also an homage to the "Tall Firs," the name given to Oregon's 1939 team that won the NCAA title.
The trees are all towering toward center court, too, where Oregon's "O" logo sits above the words "Deep in the Woods."
From up high, looks like a skyward look through a forest clearing. Pretty cool, right?
Here's a take by Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports, who edits the site's NCAA basketball blog "The Dagger":
"Considering how much thought went into everything from the steeply tiered seats to the duck's epic entrance from the rafters to the "Deep In the Woods" slogan on the floor, it's tough to believe nobody bothered to check how the court would look on TV. Whether that's true or whether somebody just signed off on the TV image too quickly, that's a pretty brutal oversight."
Personally, the floor looked pretty awesome from where I was sitting on press row Thursday night, but I will admit that it's still hard to see the half-court stripe and the endlines, even when you're standing on it, which I did before the game.
That said, since UCLA will be playing the Ducks on it this afternoon -- I won't be there for that game, as I'm in Corvallis for USC's game against Oregon State, but my colleague Ben Bolch will be -- I figured I'd share some interesting stuff I gathered while working on my story in Thursday's editions of The Times about Matthew Knight Arena.
Gary Gray is a portable sales manager for the Michigan-based Connor Sports Flooring, which built the floor and for the last five years has been in charge of the floors for the men's and women's NCAA Final Four games -- and he gave me the lowdown.
The interlocking floor is made of northern hard maple and took about a week to be made at their mill in Amasa, Mich., and after that it was sent to a finishing department in Idaho Falls.
It usually takes about two to three weeks to finish a floor from there, but this one took more than a month. Why? The graphics, which took up 2,500 man hours and more than two miles of stenciling material.
"We used more stenciling material on this floor than we did in a whole year, doing 30 to 35 portable floors a year," Gray said.
Gray, a former power forward for UC Santa Barbara in the late '80s, said he has played at Oregon's old gym, McArthur Court, which was known as one of the most intimidating arenas in the nation.
But Gray said "Matt Court," as the new floor has been dubbed, will work just as well.
"It's going to be a true home-court advantage and visitors aren't going to know what they're playing on," Gray said. "The lines are there, but with the graphics looking like the trees and everything, it's going to take some adjusting."
We'll see if that's the case as the season continues, and if Oregon officials decide to change the floor at all to limit any potential glare all these television viewers are talking about.
-- Baxter Holmes in Corvallis, Ore.
Photo: A look at the Matthew Knight Arena court as Oregon plays USC on Thursday night. Credit: Steve Dykes / Getty Images