Baseball had Jackie Robinson. Basketball had Chuck Cooper.
The first Black player drafted by an NBA team, Cooper was a star for Duquesne University during their era of postwar basketball dominance which lasted into the early 1960s.
Since then, things have kind of been up and down. There have been solid seasons here and there, and some great players. The old A.J. Palumbo Center got rocking on occasion, but seldom needed its full 4,000-plus capacity for home games.
Now — completely renovated and essentially rebuilt — Duquesne finally has a state-of-the-art, $45 million arena called the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse, to honor the trailblazing Chuck Cooper.
“One message I heard over and over again, was that we needed to bring our athletic program back to its glory days, not just in terms of victories, but in terms of the coaches and facilities that would lead the Dukes to greatness,” says Duquesne University President Ken Gormley.
Several upcoming Dukes games at the Fieldhouse will be broadcast on national television via ESPN.
“This will be a place where dreams are lived and renewed for the next generation of Duquesne student-athletes and all members of the Duquesne family,” says Gormley. “Our basketball and volleyball teams will compete here, student-athletes will train here and students will have spaces where they can study and build community here. And alumni can gather here to cheer on the Dukes, see friends and continue so many great traditions. High school students, too, will get their first glimpse of the spirit of Duquesne during visits to this space.”
Exact capacity hasn’t been announced yet, but it will be comparable to the previous A.J. Palumbo Center. The arena sits on the edge of Duquesne’s Uptown campus, across from the $53.6 million College of Osteopathic Medicine that is scheduled to open in 2024.
Combined, this is the most new construction Duquesne has seen in decades. The old buildings on these sites, including the Palumbo Center, essentially presented giant blank brick walls to the street. The UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse connects much better with Forbes Avenue with large, inviting windows facing the street.
The 137,600 square-foot project was designed by DRS Architects, and will officially open Tuesday with a game against Dayton.
The old A.J. Palumbo Center was also a concert venue (not a great one — Elvis Costello once ridiculed it from the stage). The new UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse will not host any concerts, according to Duquesne Athletics spokesman Dave Saba.