Thirty minutes after giving a tour of the new GSU Convocation Center, men’s basketball coach Jonas Hayes grabbed his smartphone and made a video call to one of the players he’s recruiting. Hayes was standing in the upper level of the facility, the shiny new arena just a few paces below where he was standing, and he wasn’t about to waste an opportunity to show it off to a potential Panther.

“This is a game-changer,” Hayes said.

The long-awaited arena finally is available. The building will be the showcase of the Sun Belt Conference. There are 3,500 seats available on the lower bowl and 4,000 seats in the upper level. The parquet floor features a Georgia State logo set within an outline of Georgia. The word “Atlanta” is prominently displayed in front of the bench. There are large glass windows on each end, Center Parc Stadium visible to the south and the Gold Dome of the state capitol and city skyline visible to the north.

Construction began on the $85 million project in November 2020. It replaces the 3,000-seat GSU Sports Arena that was built in 1973.

“Like all things shiny and new, it grabs your attention, right?” Hayes said. “And for this university, which spans several administrations, several athletic administrations also, for them to have the foresight to understand the importance of having something new and something that states that Georgia State has arrived. I think this building manifests that.”

The concourse is branded with GSU colors and logos and photographs. There are two large video screens on the north end of the building and a video ribbon that runs the circumference of the area. The locker rooms are plush and padded, and the exterior office space has a television and comfy chairs for guests. There’s even a staircase – even though the days of playing in the old “walk-up gym” have passed.

Hayes saw the building for the first time Thursday morning when he brought the team over to get their first look. The players were gobsmacked, giving it the once over, checking out the floor and surroundings and taking plenty of photos to share on social media. They’ll soon get a chance to practice there for the first time.

“They’ve worked hard this summer, this fall, and to be able to showcase this place to them was a treat,” Hayes said.

The building was under construction when Hayes was hired as head coach last spring and he had no input in the building. He was still finding the various nooks on his second look around the place Thursday afternoon.

“It’s like I woke up on third base,” he said. “I had zero to do with it, and that’s why it speaks to my level of appreciation that I’ve been chosen to lead this program into this new era with this brand-new building.”

Hayes already has used his imagination to visualize where the raucous GSU Pep Band is going to play and where the student body is going to ramp into its typical harassment mode.

“I’ve envisioned this being a hostile environment,” Hayes said. “I think we have to win games. I think the style of play, the rugged play, the fast-paced style we’re going to try to play with, I think that’s going to be something people want to get behind. And the student section is going to be huge.”

Whenever asked about the new facility, Hayes never fails to speak in grateful tones about the coaches and players who competed at the old GSU Sports Arena and laid the foundation for the program. He said an effort is being made to gather as many former players and coaches as possible to be honored at a home this season.

“People thought Georgia State was always going to play on the third floor of an office building,” Hayes said. “People used to say never in a million years would you see Georgia State with a facility as grand as this. A lot of dreams have come true with this building.”

The GSU women will play the first exhibition game at the new arena, taking on Emory on Oct. 30. The men will host Morehouse in an exhibition the next day. Both teams will christen the Convocation Center with real games Nov. 7, the women against Agnes Scott and the men against Coastal Georgia. The most-awaited game is Nov. 12 when the men host Georgia Tech. No times have been set for any of the early games.

Georgia State is hosting a tipoff and seat selection event for the public from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Convocation Center. Register at GeorgiaStateSports.com/Tipoff.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com