BENDIGO Stadium’s $23-million expansion has lived up to the hype, according to fans and players at Friday night’s first game.
More than 3000 people packed into the stadium’s new show court, which was christened with a 32-point win by the Bendigo Braves women over SEABL rivals Sandringham Sabres.
The 92-60 triumph was powered by a game-high 29 points and 12 assists from star point guard Kelly Wilson and 25-points and eight rebounds from Nadeen Payne.
Plenty in the stands looked in awe of the city’s newest sports and entertainment venue.
Braves season ticket-holder Jeremy Burns said he could not have been more impressed with the new show court.
“It’s massive - the size of it is just unreal. It’s way bigger than I was expecting,” he said.
“It’s very modern and looks like something you would find in Melbourne.
“It’s definitely something we can be proud of in Bendigo. What other city in regional Victoria would have a venue like this for 4000 people?”
John Russell, whose son plays junior basketball in Bendigo, described it as “super-sensational’.
“It’s a brilliant stadium and fantastic for the City of Greater Bendigo.”
Equally impressed were locals Joanne and Tom Lewis.
The mother and son, who live just minutes from the stadium, were attending their first basketball game after winning tickets in a radio station promotion.
“We watched it (the development) slowly appear and get bigger and bigger every time we drove past it and suddenly its finished,” Mrs Lewis said.
“Initially we had no idea it was being built.
“We have come to the venue for dinner before, but never the basketball, so this is a night out. It’s massive.”
Son Tom was most impressed with the giant Jumbotron hoisted above centre court and following his first taste of live basketball action, quickly vowed to be back for more Braves games.
A special night for the Braves was even sweeter for basketballer Payne, who made history by scoring the first points on the new show court.
The 24-year-old added seven of the Braves’ next 14 points and had 16 by half-time.
Payne described scoring the first points as pretty cool before quickly deflecting credit for the Braves’ ninth-straight win this season to her team-mates.
“It’s amazing to play with a group like this, it’s very rare and I am enjoying every single moment,” she said.
“We’re happy to be 9-0, but that just leaves us with a target on our back now.
“Every week now we’ll just have train harder and prepare that bit better.”
A new era for Bendigo basketball was also a proud moment for the many former Braves players and officials in the crowd, among them Justin Cass, whose number six jersey was retired by the organisation.
Cass, who was ranked sixth in a Bendigo Advertiser list of greatest ever Braves to celebrate the club’s 25th anniversary in 2010, said he hoped the new stadium would be the catalyst for bigger games of basketball in Bendigo in the future.
“To me, playing all around Australia at all types of venues, this is one of the best I have ever been in,” he said.
“(The old show court) looked pretty good, but when you walk into this place here, this is A1 class.
“Hopefully one day we might get some NBL games here and fill the place.
“Everybody who has been involved in this needs to pat themselves on the back as this is a great initiative.”
Meanwhile, the Braves men, led by 20 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and two steals, from Jeremy Kendle, staved off a gallant Sabres to win 81-73.