The Warriors aren’t the only team ready to play at the Kaiser Permanente Arena. As the home to the NBA Development League’s Santa Cruz Warriors, the arena will also serve as the primary home venue for the UC Santa Cruz Slugs this season.
UCSC and the Santa Cruz Warriors reached an agreement on Nov. 5 allowing the UCSC men’s and women’s basketball teams to play a total of 16 games at Kaiser.
“[Kaiser] is going to be a great place to play,” said UCSC women’s basketball head coach Todd Kent. “The West Gym is home and we still have two home games there, but I feel like we have a good product now, and we need to showcase it.”
Opening weekend for the Warriors and Slugs begins this weekend. The Warriors will have their first preseason game on Nov. 14 against Reno. On Nov. 15 the UCSC women’s team will play St. Catherine University at 7 p.m. in the arena, followed by the men’s team on Nov. 16 against Cal Lutheran.
When the Warriors relocated to Santa Cruz in 2012, the UCSC basketball coaches began working together to propose a home facility change to the UCSC and Warriors management.
The ball got rolling last April, when Chancellor Blumenthal was invited to a Warriors game. He agreed the facility would be beneficial for UCSC athletes and the local Santa Cruz community, calling it a “win-win” in a press release from the Warriors.
“It’s about time [the agreement was finalized],” said women’s basketball guard and forward Ryane Ortiz. “We were just on the fence forever about knowing what was going on. We didn’t know what would happen, how it would affect school spirit and having a fan base. The amount of time it took was frustrating, but it was out of our hands.”
The Warriors will host the Slugs without charging UCSC, and will use ticket sales from the Slugs’ games in an effort to host NCAA Division III basketball games in the future.
“The Warriors are taking the burden of [hosting UCSC], and it’s not even a burden, but it’s what we want to do to develop fans,” said Santa Cruz Warriors public and community relations manager Matt de Nesnera.
UCSC women’s basketball head coach Todd Kent said this agreement saves his team money. As an independent team, Kent must schedule 25 games a year, and now has a better “sales pitch” to other coaches since Kaiser is a selling point.
“We struggle quite a bit because we have to fundraise a lot of money just to exist, and we have to attract people to come to us so we don’t have to fundraise as much,” Kent said. “Now with this arena, we already have some home games next year against very good opponents.”
Additional home games will not only cut down on travel costs, ranging from flights to hotels, but also be beneficial to recruiting prospective students to play basketball at UCSC, Ortiz said.
Still, the Slugs have some adjustments to make with the facility switch now official.
“It’s actually going to take some time to get used to,” Ortiz said. “It might sound a little silly but the three point line is off right now, so in practice we have no idea where we are supposed to be on the court and all of our shots seem a little weird. The rim is super new and nice, but it is really bouncy and nothing goes in — all of the rebounds are long.”
Two senior leaders on the women’s team, Ortiz and point guard Taylor Willis, are anticipating a strong season for the Slugs. Last season the women’s team had a winning record without any seniors on the roster, and the players hope fan support will lead to another strong season.
“Kaiser might increase the local fan population but it might be a little harder for students to get here,” Willis said. “I know a lot of students don’t know we even have a team, but we’re getting more awareness. Bringing in the community will be great for our team, but I hope we can also get students to come down here too.”
Kent and de Nesnera foresee an increase in both fan and local support with the switch to Kaiser.
“Our hope is to build a broader base of support to UCSC athletics as a whole,” de Nesnera said.
Like the UCSC players, Santa Cruz Warriors guard Cameron Jones is ready for the Warriors’ season to begin. He said the packed crowds — largely UCSC students — are a reason to enjoy playing in Santa Cruz.
“The opportunity to play in front of Santa Cruz is a blessing,” Jones said. “The crowd is pretty passionate, and it’s not too small of a city where people know you, but walking around, people will recognize you. It’s pretty cool. Kids go nuts for us here.”
The players and coaches of the UCSC teams hope Kaiser will help to create a larger fan base for the Slugs, similar to what the Warriors have in the community.
“Anytime you have a facility in the community and the opportunity to bring a college program at whatever level or division, that’s a good thing,” de Nesnera said. “We have this great facility that can help the program in any way, shape or form, whether it’s getting more fans, potentially recruiting people, getting a national tournament here or getting more exposure. It will bring some different life into the program.”
Tickets for the Santa Cruz Warriors and UCSC basketball are available at santacruzwarriors.com