When the Creston boys basketball team takes the court against ADM at 5 p.m. Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, the players will be getting a rare opportunity that not everyone gets to experience.
Not everyone gets the opportunity to play a high school game in an arena like Wells Fargo. The majority of games take place in the small gymnasiums of high schools across the state.
But, with that opportunity will also come certain challenges specific to playing in an arena.
“It’s hard to play at Wells Fargo,” Creston head coach Billy Hiatt said. “It’s hard to shoot. Anybody can win on any given night there. Getting used to playing where there’s no walls behind the backboard, even the coaches where we’re at, we’re kind of pushed down, so you’re out there alone. It’s a big floor.”
This year marks the fifth straight season the Panthers will have participated in a regular season game at Wells Fargo Arena. Creston started playing in the series put on by the Iowa Energy in the 2008-09 season.
Prior to that season, the last Creston team to have played at Wells Fargo Arena was the state tournament team in 2005-06.
Cody Pearson, who was a sophomore on that squad and is now in his third year as an assistant coach for the DMACC men’s basketball team after playing there for two seasons, said it can be hard to adjust to playing in an arena setting.
“It’s a lot different than playing in a little high school gym,” Pearson said. “A lot of people compare it to playing outside, playing on a hoop outside with no background. A lot of times you get in there and your first shot is off, because you’re so used to having a wall or background behind the hoop. It takes awhile to get everything adjusted.”
It’s not unusual to see a team playing in an arena for the first time struggle. The Panthers shouldn’t have too much of a problem this year, however, after playing ADM to double overtime in the game at Wells Fargo last season, losing 63-60.
Pearson feels like the the struggles a team can experience can be seen in the two state qualifying teams he was a part of.
“A lot of times you see teams when they play in a place like that, they struggle,” Pearson said. “Our two teams showed that, too. My freshman year (2004-05), we had a better team when we played at Vets Auditorium, and we lost in the first round. My sophomore year at Wells Fargo, we came up and won the first round game by 15 or 20 and then lost in the semis on a buzzer beater to Harlan. It does make a difference when you have multiple experiences.”
Despite coming up short of the dream of winning a state championship, Pearson said playing at Vets and Wells Fargo Arena is an experience he will never forget.
“It was awesome, and we went back-to-back years,” Pearson said. “Once you get there, it’s your goal the whole season. A taste one year drives you the next year. Getting to play in an arena like that is cool.”
For Pearson, the whole gameday experience was better when it came in an arena.
“I remember one of the coolest things is you’re so used to being in a high school locker, and you walk in and everyone’s got their own locker and chair,” Pearson said of the Wells Fargo Arena locker rooms. “And walking into the arena from the tunnel underneath — it’s just a big time feel you don’t usually get to experience.”
Hiatt agreed that it’s an experience his players likely won’t forget anytime soon, and an experience he wishes he could have had as a player.
“Just being out there in it, it’s a different atmosphere,” Hiatt said. “It’s a great experience for them. A lot of kids don’t get to experience it. It’s something I didn’t get to do. I played at state, but I didn’t get to play in an arena like that. I think it’s something they’ll remember.”
Pearson said he’s jealous of the teams that get to play in the regular season game at Wells Fargo Arena.
“A lot of my former teammates, we’ve always talked about how jealous we are,” Pearson said. “We had to make it to state to play there, and these guys get to play there during the regular season. It’s a really cool opportunity. Hopefully Creston can do it again sometime at state, too, and not just the regular season.”
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