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Official Review by Ed Pelle, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Louisiana Tech is most well-known athletically as the football powerhouse that NFL great Terry Bradshaw led to three Division II National Titles. Although Northern Louisiana would be considered football country, the area has produced some great basketball talent over the years. All-time greats such as Joe Dumars, Elvin Hayes, Willis Reed, Robert Parish, and Karl Malone for whom the basketball court is named at Louisiana Tech University, have all called this part of the state home. It is also home to arguably the greatest basketball player of all time: Bill Russell (my apologies to King James).
Located across the street from Joe Aillet Stadium, home of Louisiana Tech football, the Thomas Assembly Center has been home to men's and women's basketball since opening in 1982. It is also the home of women's volleyball with a seating capacity of 8,000.
The Lady Techsters women's basketball team has a long history of excellence at this facility. They have won three National Titles since 1981 and have been National Runners-up four times. They also have the distinction of hosting the largest crowd at the Thomas Assembly Center for a game in 1985.
The men's basketball team has also had some success. They have qualified for the NCAA Tournament on five separate occasions. The program has produced recent notable NBA players P.J. Brown and Paul Millsap, and three Bulldog greats have banners hanging in the arena.
Jackie Moreland was the first All-American to play at Louisiana Tech, playing from 1957 to 1960 before moving on to the NBA. Ruston native Leon Barmore led the Bulldogs to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1967 and later became the coach of the Lady Techsters. His winning percentage as women's basketball Head Coach is the highest ever in Division I basketball. NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone also played here during his college days and is still active at the University, having donated both time and money.
After spending 12 seasons in the Western Athletic Conference the Bulldogs joined Conference USA as a member starting in the 2013-2014 season.
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 are three concession stands located around the concourse which serve rather standard fare for an arena of this size. Some of these items are hot dogs ($3), nachos ($4), chili cheese nachos ($5), popcorn ($2), chips ($2), peanuts ($2), and candy ($2). Pepsi products are sold here ($3 per bottle) and coffee is offered as well ($2).
Interestingly some of the items listed for sale on the concession stands billboards other than what I mentioned above are no longer offered or have outdated prices.
Thomas Assembly Center has a perfectly circular construction with one main concourse. The seats have a steep pitch to them, so all the seats in the arena have a good view in this intimate environment.
The main scoreboard does a great job of getting the crowd into the action with little vignettes featuring the players or mascots. There are two smaller scoreboards that are located behind the baskets at ground level. These scoreboards keep track of the players' points and fouls but are obscured constantly throughout the game by the placement of the cheerleaders and dance squads directly in front of them. Though it is only a minor issue, a repositioning of the boards or cheerleaders would help improve the experience.
The Bulldogs have two mascots. Champ is a traditional mascot in the sense that it is a dog costumed person trying to excite the crowd during breaks in the game. Tech XXI is an animal mascot that sits with his handlers overlooking the game from one of the gates. He seems calm and is used to the attention he gets from Tech fans.
The Bulldogs do a great job at preserving their past accomplishments with major displays to the left and right of the main entry gate on the main concourse. The women's basketball National Titles are in a case to the left of the entryway.
Ruston is a quaint southern town that just happens to be home to a world class university.
It's hard to recommend doing anything other than tailgating with some of the best fans around, but if you feel more comfortable leaving the campus to eat at perhaps a more relaxed setting, then I have a few suggestions.
When looking for a place to eat before or after the game, do what the students do and follow them to Griff's Burgers located on the southern edge of campus. Griff's has a few other locations in the Southern United States.
For a more traditional sports bar, visit the Dawg House Sports Grill. They have several beers on tap and serve a large menu in a Bulldog-themed setting. They have an extensive menu but I have listed some of the regional dishes that you might not find in other locales: Fried Corn ($5.75), Fried Pickles ($4.75), Fried Mushrooms ($5.75), Crawfish Bread ($8.49), Chicken Fried Steak ($11.49), Shrimp Po-Boy ($11.25), Steak Fingers ($8.25), Crawfish Etouffee ($11.49), and Southern Smothered Tilapia ($11.49).
While in town be sure to drive the one mile or so west to the campus of Grambling State University which has a long and celebrated sports history. Visit the Eddie Robinson Museum and check to see if the Grambling State Tigers are in town for a possible sports doubleheader.
One of the great things in college sports is the smaller towns across the United States that rally around a local team. While Ruston, Louisiana might not be that large in terms of population, its fans are very passionate about all happenings at the University. The parking lot surrounding the arena begins to fill up early because some fans here will actually tailgate the basketball game, a practice unheard of in more northerly climes.
Often the total attendance is only around 5,000, even on weeknights or against early season inferior opponents. The fans here are knowledgeable and keep coming back in droves.
Parking around the Thomas Assembly Center is free, although the spaces closest to the main gate are reserved for those with a parking pass, such as season ticket holders or donors. This area won't increase your walk by much if you should not have a parking pass.
Getting to the campus is easy from Interstate 20. Take exit 84 south for about a mile and you will be driving past the athletic facilities. Getting to Ruston from a farther destination is a bit more complicated. By air the nearest commercial airport is located 32 miles east in Monroe, Louisiana. You would then have to rent a car and drive over. Further out there are regional airports in Jackson, Mississippi and Shreveport, Louisiana.
Ticket prices run from $10 up to $28 for the closest seats in the house. I would recommend the cheaper seats here because they are still going to be fairly close to the action at a good angle to see every play.
With no parking fees and reasonable food prices, a family of four could easily have an inexpensive night of quality entertainment at the Thomas Assembly Center.
I have to give a point to the excellent speaker system which keeps you tuned into the play by play when you leave the seating area, even in the bathroom.
Also be sure to check out the Charles Wyly Athletic Center located at the southeastern base of Aillet Stadium, which has a museum dedicated to 100 years of Louisiana Tech football.
Be sure to stop at the souvenir stand on the main concourse which has close to a hundred separate items for sale.
These are exciting times at Louisiana Tech as things look to be on the upswing for men's basketball. The program has a new, more nationally known conference for the team to showcase their great on-court product. A deep run in the NCAA Tournament could be in the near future. I would highly recommend checking a game out here as it is easily the best basketball experience in the northern half of the state of Louisiana.
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815 W California Ave
Ruston, LA 71270
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