With a special visit from alumnus Gary Neal and a phalanx of local politicans, Towson University performed a ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday for $68 million Tiger Arena, due to open in 2013.
Although the real dirt won't be moved for another two weeks, new basketball coach Pat Skerry's roster already is undergoing changes.
After signing 6-foot-5 combination guard Kelvin Amayo of Hillside, N.J., this week, Skerry has five new players headed to Towson, and more on the way.
Also signing national letters of intent are 6-6 Marcus Damus of Long Island, 6-5 Deon Jones of Delaware, 6-0 Kris Walden of Richmond and 6-4 Will Adams from Philadelphia. Adams will play next season after battling Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Departing are junior Braxton Dupree and sophomore Isaiah Philmore.
"I think we've improved our length," Skerry said. "One thing we've got to do is become better defensively. … We're still in flux."
Amayo is physical player who can play the point or shooting guard. Skerry, an assistant coach at Pittsburgh last season, likened Amayo to Panthers guard Brad Wanamaker.
"He's a guy we're counting on to be an impact player," Skerry said. "He's very good with the ball. He's very good at getting in the lane and finding guys. Wanamaker was a guy that we put the ball in his hands a lot and let him make plays.
"He guards, he rebounds. I think we've got a couple guys coming in that can run and finish plays, and he's going to help them."
Skerry said the school is working to make post player Robert Nwankwo eligible for his senior season. He's also counting on RaShawn Polk to contribute next season.
"I'd like to have those two kids here because I think they can have great senior years and help us jump start things quickly," Skerry said.
The new coach might also get an assist from Neal, whose buzzer-beater for the San Antonio Spurs triggered the most unlikely comeback of the NBA playoffs this spring. Neal, who has a home in Havre de Grace, said he's "open and willing" to helping Towson any way he can.
"Towson has always been extremely open and receptive to me, and a key part of who I am and the success I've had so far," Neal said. "I'm thankful and appreciative of it."
Joe Mathews, Towson's women's coach, said he welcomes the intimate setting in the new arena.
"It's not just going to be a building that is there to host multi-events," Mathews said. "But it's going to be a true home-court advantage on those wonderful Thursday and Sunday afternoons for us."
Vince Angotti, who coached the Tigers' men's team from 1966 through 1983, attended the groundbreaking as well and said it was a step in the right direction.
"From here, there's no more excuses," Angotti said. "We've got the population, we're in a great setting, we're in a great recruiting area. Now we've got the building. So what else is needed? I think this building is going to be fantastic. I think it's the last part of the puzzle."
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