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Official Review by Ryan Norris, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
McKeon Pavilion (pronounced mc–CUE–in) is the home gym for the Saint Mary’s Gaels men’s and women’s basketball teams. The men’s team has been a top “mid-major” team over the last decade and has made some noise in the NCAA Tournament. Overall, Saint Mary’s has appeared in eight NCAA Tournaments after winning three conference tournaments and six conference regular seasons. Their best showing was making the Elite Eight in 1959. Additionally, they made the Sweet Sixteen in 2010.
McKeon Pavilion has served as the home court for the Gaels since 1978 and has a capacity of 3,500 fans. Saint Mary’s has plans to renovate the aging facility to accommodate 500 additional fans, luxury suites and video boards as well as an athletic training facility. In the meantime, the Gaels still enjoy a great home court advantage.
A game at McKeon Pavilion is one of the best college basketball experiences in Northern California thanks to quality of play and the intimate setting for a game.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is one main concession stand on the entry level concourse. Here you will find hot dogs, popcorn, nachos and other staples. Upstairs, you'll find snacks like chips and candy. Both concession areas serve bottled water and soft drinks. In short, eat prior to getting to McKeon Pavilion and just supplement it with a snack or a soda.
There is not a better college basketball atmosphere in Northern California going right now than a Saint Mary's home game. If California or Stanford have a good year it's possible either of them could supplant the Gaels in this category. However, year in and year out, my money's on McKeon.
The seating is the one downside. Everything in the upper level is bleacher seating in hard, plastic form. One side of the gym has no seat pads, while the other side does ($10 more). There is very little leg room between benches which can make for an uncomfortable experience at times, but certainly serves to pack 3,500 spectators as close to the court as possible. You cannot access the lower level at anytime without a ticket for that area.
Being almost 40 years old, McKeon Pavilion feels its age. There is no video screen showing replays or advertisements but that furthers the gym-like vibe. There is one small scoreboard at one end of the court and a larger one, complete with stats, at the other.
"Gael Force," the Saint Mary's student section, stands on the bleachers opposite the team benches. Clad in all red, they keep the energy level high throughout. Though the students are raucous, it's just as likely to see older couples and families with small children at McKeon.
McKeon Pavilion is split into two main sections; lower and upper levels to your right and lower and upper levels to your left upon entry. The one exception to the mirror image is the Hall of Fame Lounge with its seats hanging over one end of the court, giving a unique perspective.
Since Randy Bennett arrived in Moraga there has been an influx of Australian talent (e.g., Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova amongst others) and they now display an Australian flag in the gym. This, and the "Aussie Aussie Aussie" chants are sure to make these players right at home.
McKeon Pavilion is located on the Saint Mary's campus in the town of Moraga, just 15 miles from Oakland. However, as most games are on weeknights during rush hour, it can take up to an hour to get to Moraga from the more urban areas of the Bay Area. Moraga has a population of less than 20,000 and is a quiet, but beautiful place. Rolling hills and tall redwoods allow for beautiful day hikes in the area.
Being located on campus, though scenic, is not conducive to grabbing food or drink prior to or after a Gaels basketball game. Your best options are in downtown Moraga or Rheem Valley. Here you can find Lamorinda Pizza, Italian restaurant Amaroma, and Asia Palace (mostly Chinese). Regardless of where you eat prior to the game, you will be getting back into your car to get to McKeon.
Since you're driving, maybe check out nearby Orinda for La Piazza or Hanazen for sushi.
Moraga is a mostly sleepy community where you can enjoy being outside or catching a movie. This portion is one of the more affluent of the Bay Area so you're options for dining reflect that. You won't find a row of sports bars where you can catch a game on a big screen.
Like many students sections in college basketball, Gael Force remains standing for the duration of the game. They lead chants that the whole gym gets involved with and are the catalysts for big runs by the hometown team.
The Gaels seem to benefit from playing in a small town, somewhat secluded from the otherwise busy and bustling Bay Area. They are not only the hot ticket in town, but the only. The community seems to embrace them as their own, with many members of the community alumnus of SMC.
There is a perception about the fans being a little uppity at SMC. This may be true but I didn't find it to negatively affect my experience.
Moraga is somewhat secluded from the rest of the Bay Area. The nearest freeways (13 and 24) are more than 5 miles away, accessible only by winding roads, with one lane going each direction.
That doesn't begin to tell the story of getting to McKeon. Though it's only 20 miles away from San Francisco, it can take well over an hour to get to Moraga during rush hour. This is not unique to the Moraga/Lafayette area but certainly affects a trip to see the game. It's not only an issue of getting out of the city as it backs up on the other side of the bay on 580 and 24. Keep traffic in mind as most college basketball games are held on weeknights.
For many Bay Area residents avoiding traffic can be solved by taking a BART train. Unfortunately the nearest station is 5 miles away, so it is not walkable. Riding a bicycle is an option from the train station and would be a nice ride through the rolling hills, but isn't advisable as there aren't many street lights from the station into town.
It's not much easier when you get inside the venue. The bleacher seating in the general admission area leaves literally no room for people to pass in front of seated spectators. Even standing up to let fans by is tricky as there really is only room for one person to stand at a time. Other seating looks to be more accessible.
Even the parking lots, though inexpensive at $5, are a good walk away from the venue.
Tickets have increased in recent years. A general admission ticket is now $15, with an identical seat across the court with seat cushion going for $25. These are starting points and go up depending on the opponent. Largely, single game seats in the lower level are unavailable as they are swooped up by season ticket holders. It would be nice to see them lower the price for sparsely attended non-conference games like when I saw the Gaels take on Morgan State.
Concessions, though limited, and parking at a great value bump up the overall return a point.
There aren't many state-of-the-art extras at McKeon Pavilion. Rather, the extras consist of the historical value, the nostalgic nature of the gym and the atmosphere of this elite mid-major squad.
The elevated area behind one backboard for some season ticket holders is cool, albeit strange, aesthetic. This area has risers filled with comfy folding chairs and plenty of leg room.
They have typical contests throughout the game including a 3-point shooting contest which, on the night I attended, was won by a young man with use of only one of his arms. Very impressive.
Lastly, the Gaels proudly display their retired numbers and championship banners for men's and women's hoops as well as the full trophy case in the main entrance concourse.
Member Review by ryannorris on Feb 05, 2012
McKeon Pavilion is the home gym of the Saint Mary's Gaels. McKeon is located in Moraga, California, 12 miles east and up a few hills from Oakland. Moraga is beautifully set in a valley surrounded by large redwoods and hiking and biking trails, tucked away from the more urban areas of Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco.
Holding only 3,500 spectators at its capacity, McKeon Pavilion is a very intimate experience. Fans, no matter where their seats, are right on top of the action. The gym, opened in 1978, is mostly outfitted with bleacher style seats, with fans right on top of each other.
Under the tutelage of Randy Bennett since 2001, the Gaels men's basketball team has made the NCAA tournament 3 times (2005, 2008, 2010), including a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2010, a conference regular-season championship (2011), and a conference tournament championship (2010). This success has led to a great following in Contra Costa County and the East Bay and helps to create a great environment in Moraga.
1460 Moraga Rd
Moraga, CA 94556
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