Built in 1968, the Pan American Center was part of a $22 million campus-wide construction project at New Mexico State. The Las Cruces arena itself cost $3.5 million, and was designed by W.C. Kruger and Associates.
On February 9th, 2002, NMSU honored legendary coach Lou Henson by naming the court after him. Henson once attended New Mexico State before taking over as head basketball coach, and ended up winning a total of 779 games in college basketball as a head coach. The floor design that currently graces Pan Am Center was unveiled in the 2011-12 season.
The capacity of 8,994 makes Pan American Center one of the largest college basketball arenas in the Rocky Mountain area. Even with that current capacity, the arena has hosted over 13,000 fans 24 times in its history.
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".
Pan American Center offers all of the food you would expect to find at a college basketball venue. Hot dogs, nachos and popcorn all cost $4.25, with Coca-Cola drinks being slightly more expensive than that. You can also get Pete's Combo (hot dog, chips and drink) for $8, and a Kid's Combo (hot dog, popcorn, small drink) for $6. Candy and peanuts cost $3.50.
Other concession stands around the concourse offer a little more variety, including bratwurst, chicken wings, chicken sandwiches, cheeseburgers, and corn dogs. These range in price from $3-$5.
Alcohol is also available in Pan Am Center: 24 oz. cans of beer cost $8.50, and single-serving mimosas cost $7.50.
Fans can enter the Pan American Center through doors on any side of the building. The logos on the court face the west side (sections 6-12). Both teams enter the court through a tunnel in the southwest corner. The Aggies bench is located in the northeast corner, with the visitors in the southeast corner. The visiting fans section is located behind their bench in sections 21 and 121. '
Before the game, NMSU's mascot Pistol Pete brings out a piñata of the opposing team and does terrible things to it at center court before having it tied to a rope and raised to the rafters. Pistol Pete is a very popular figure during the game as well, as he goes around the seating area taking pictures with fans and encouraging chants throughout. During pregame intros, a giant crazy arm wind thing is brought out, which is super-cheesy and extremely weird. And it also blocks a few sections' view of the NMSU players when they are announced.
Fans can literally sit at the courtside table, which is entertainment in itself when the ball goes to the west sidelines. Popcorn and beer everywhere! The school also encourages fans to move down when it is not very crowded, which seems unique, and makes the atmosphere a little bit more intimidating even when not a lot of people are in attendance.
There are giveaways and various other things throughout the game. The big one is after every three-pointer made by NMSU, the cheerleaders throw out shirts to the fans. After wins, everyone in attendance gets a coupon for a free appetizer at St. Clair Winery and Bistro.
There's a main scoreboard that hangs above center court with four small video boards. Those video boards show live game action and instant replays of big plays throughout the game. On the scoreboard itself are individual stats of players on the court, as well as the other typical things you would expect to find. What makes NMSU sort of unique is what looks like an old football scoreboard that is found above the north end seating.
Some restaurants are nearby if you're looking for somewhere to hang out before tip. Lorenzo's Italian Restaurant is right across the street, and seems to be a popular place among the Aggie faithful. The Game Sports Bar and Grill looks like the best option for a more traditional sports bar feel. These are both located on University Ave., not too far from the stadium. University Ave. has several other options for fans as well.
There are a few hotels located at the University exit on I-25. Hilton Garden Inn, Comfort Suites, and Sleep Inn are all right next to each other, and are walking distance from arena. If you're flying to Las Cruces, your best bet is to fly into El Paso and drive from there.
Also in the immediate area of Pan American Center are the other NMSU athletic facilities including Aggie Memorial Stadium, Presley Askew Field, and the school's softball stadium. So you could try and pull a double header at certain points of the year depending on the schedules. And you wouldn't have to drive anywhere to do it.
Students sit on both the north and south ends of the building. The pep band, known as The Roadrunner Review, sits in the southeast corner next to the visiting bench. The NMSU cheerleaders stand at the front of the students in the south end. "The Panamaniacs" as they're called, are definitely more rowdy in the south end.
All of the fans are very polite at Pan American Center. During opposing team intros, they clap. When opposing players get hurt and get up, they clap. It's a very courteous fan base. If you sit down next to the court, you can pick out individual people quietly giving refs and opposing players the business. There's always something about quiet, very personal trash talk that feels more authentic than people screaming it from very far away.
The arena is located just off of I-25 at the University Ave. exit. It's also only about a mile from I-10.
The arena has plenty of parking lots on all sides of it. The parking lots that are located farthest east are all free, and there's plenty of space even when the games are more crowded.
Once inside, getting around the concourse is pretty easy unless it's halftime. The concession stand lines definitely block the walkway, and the lines don't move very fast, so it's a problem through the first couple minutes of the second half as well. But there are plenty of bathrooms located throughout.
The entrances to the concourse are high up in the seating area, so getting up and down the aisles is not exactly the best.
Single game tickets range from $5-$30. You can see where those prices get you with NM State's pricing map. That seems to be on the expensive side among schools of the same level of basketball as New Mexico State. But parking is free to make up for it. Unfortunately, the concession prices make a night at Pan American Center a little on the expensive side for the quality of basketball environment that you get.
The best part about the Pan American Center to me is the university's history honored at both ends. In both the north and south concourse, the NM State Athletics Hall of Fame has pictures of all the various people that are honored. Along the east concourse, there are smaller displays where you can find a little more info about some of the people. In the south end, former basketball coach Lou Henson's 700th win is recognized. His 779 total wins are also recognized along with the retired jerseys in the northeast rafters. NMSU has not retired a jersey for a player in its men's basketball program since John Williamson, who played in Las Cruces from 1971-73.
The New Mexico State basketball experience is a very basic one, but one that you should check out if you are in the area. However, it pales in comparison to other relatively nearby college basketball arenas like UTEP's Don Haskins Center, New Mexico's Pit, and Arizona's McKale Center. But there are certainly some unique things that hardcore basketball fans will enjoy by spending an evening at Pan American Center.
The NCAA Tournament is where college basketball programs build their reputations.
Few mid-majors boast an NCAA Tournament history better than that of New Mexico State University. The Aggies are the only current member of the WAC with a Final Four appearance (1970). NMSU has won more NCAA Tournament games than any other WAC team (10).
Those aren't the only historical points of pride for NMSU.
More recently, the Aggies achieved a winning percentage of .728 in the 1990s, a number better than elite programs such as Syracuse, Indiana and Michigan State during that decade. That winning percentage was also better than that of more well known mid-majors, Xavier and UNLV.
Today, Aggie sneakers squeak on Lou Henson Court inside the Pan American Center. Henson, who has more wins than all but 10 coaches in Division I basketball history, was an NMSU guard in the early 1950s before leading the Aggies to national prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
That history has helped make the Pan American Center an energetic arena at times, and one that has a reputation of being a difficult place for visitors. If the Aggies are competitive, the local fans seem to feel a connection to that history. They show up, and they get loud. When the Aggies are bland, basketball sounds can echo there.
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