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Attracting success in home of Norse

HIGHLAND HTS, Ky. — The drive from downtown Cincinnati is about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the traffic flowing out of the city on Interstate 471 toward a bridge connecting Ohio and Kentucky.

The trek into the Bluegrass State starts with a blue sign with a white outline of the horizontal state.

Didn’t realize (or forgot) this was the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. That’s my fun fact for the day.

The drive doesn’t take long as the interstate soon becomes a major four-lane road. Turn left and there’s the Northern Kentucky campus.

You can see cluster of the yellow and black colors dominating the architecture. It’s easy to tell this is a newer campus, an inviting place.

The first thing which catches your eye is a soccer-specific stadium. Well, it caught mine. It had elevated seating on one side, with capacity to 1,000.

The massive building next door appears bigger as you approach. It’s the BB&T Arena, home of the Norse men’s and women’s basketball teams.

You head into a roundabout and make 270-degree turn and there’s an overpass with Northern Kentucky University. Signs indicating there was a game scheduled on Thursday night were present around campus. The Youngstown State University men’s team made their way toward the back of the arena and entered.

One of four corridors leads you into the arena. It’s overwhelming as you see the newer facilities everywhere.

It seats about 9,400 for concerts, but a bit less for basketball. The seating in the upper deck this night wasn’t used. There are plenty of cushioned, chairback seats in 80 percent of the lower bowl. There are newer plastic bleachers, ones you’re used to in the upgraded local high schools in our area. None of those uncomfortable wooden bleachers you’d get at the Beeghly Center.

Your eyes are directed upward. There’s a four-sided scoreboard with a jumbotron on all four sides in the middle, with plenty of speakers jutting out the bottom. On top of the octagon-shaped top there is a regular scoreboard on four sides and one listing the starting five for both teams on the other four.

Banners catch your eye, plenty of NCAA Division II tournament appearances.

NKU men’s basketball sports information director Bryan McEldowney gave me the facts about the arena you’ll see in this column. He has northeast Ohio ties as he was part of the freshman boys basketball coaching staff at Villa Angela-St. Joseph. He even coached former YSU standout Ashen Ward, telling me what a great player Ward was, but more how the former Penguin and VA-SJ standout was a better human being. Small world.

NKU was thinking long before the move to Division I in the 2012-13 season that it needed to upgrade facilities. The BB&T Arena, which is publicly funded, like the Covelli Centre in Youngstown, was built in 2008.

There are plenty of concerts, professional wrestling events and other features in this gorgeous facility.

The locker rooms, athletic offices and workout facilities in the building are state-of-the art in the inner workings of the BB&T Arena.

Fans entered the building in the hour closer to game time, starting to fill up the two sides parallel to the floor — a lot of community fans as there were nearly 4,000 at Thursday’s game.

Prior to the game, a gigantic viking horn was wheeled out and the school’s top women’s soccer player blew into it, creating a low-resonating sound that echoed around the facility.

An older man and his wife were sitting in one corner of the arena. He was wearing a brown vest, gray shirt and a yellow and black helmet with viking horns jutting out. It was a theme for the Norse, which have won two of the last three Horizon League tournament titles and the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.

It is a good, solid and loud fan base just south of Cincinnati.

That looks attractive to mid-major recruits, ones that are excelling at NKU inside the BB&T Arena.

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