The PPL Center, a brand new sports arena in downtown Allentown, will be the venue for the first game of the Lehigh men’s basketball season.
The Mountain Hawks will take on Villanova University on Nov. 14 in the first NCAA basketball game to be held at the brand new arena.
Lehigh men’s basketball program is very excited to take on Villanova, an elite Big East basketball program, in the Lehigh Valley.
“We were approached by the folks at the PPL Center as well as Villanova athletics about playing the game at the PPL Center,” said Bill Griffin, associate director of athletics. “Obviously, it was intriguing.”
Griffin oversees six different sports, including men’s basketball. He works in tandem with coach Brett Reed to work on the schedule, which was recently released.
Griffin said that Villanova was interested in playing Lehigh in the Lehigh Valley because of their guard Darrun Hilliard, a former Bethlehem resident and Liberty High School graduate. Playing in Allentown gives Hilliard an opportunity to come home to the Lehigh Valley and play in front of the local fans that saw him win the Lehigh Valley Conference player of the year in 2010.
“This game launches the relationship between Lehigh and the PPL Center, which is exciting,” Griffin said. “We are going to be playing the first ever basketball game there as well.”
The matchup with Villanova, a team who won the Big East regular season title a season ago, is sure to be lively.
“This is an exciting game,” Reed said. “Villanova will likely be a top 15-20 ranked team in the country. Our players will be excited to play against strong competition and have the opportunity to show their talent and compete against some of the best in college basketball.”
Rob and Jimmy Brooks own the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the top AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers. The brothers have spearheaded the movement for a new arena for their team and have looked towards Lehigh University for support within the Lehigh Valley community.
“The Brooks brothers really want to embrace the community, and they want to be embraced back,” Griffin said. According to Griffin, Lehigh is an integral part to that process.
Reed sees the PPL Center as a great way for Lehigh to continue to engage with the community.
“This is a new arena and our game will be the first basketball game in the history of the PPL Center,” Reed said. “It allows our team to be seen first-hand by people in the Lehigh Valley against strong competition.”
While November’s matchup with Villanova at the PPL Center is exciting for the Lehigh team, the future of Lehigh athletics’ relationship with the PPL Center is unknown. Of course, during the winter and spring months, the PPL Center will be the home of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. That is the core purpose of the new arena.
“We were interested in exploring this relationship for this year but are also assessing how well a model such as this will work in the future,” Reed said. “This has been a topic of discussion with our athletic administration and myself. We will certainly learn more about this overall experience after November.”
The PPL Center opened its doors for the first time on Sept. 12 to host a concert for the Eagles, a classic rock band. In addition to basketball and hockey, the Center will also house the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks’ games as well as various concerts.
The Steelhawks have played at Stabler Arena, on Goodman Campus, since 2011. The PPL Center will seat 8,500 fans for football, basketball and hockey, but that number could be increased during concerts or other entertainment functions, as standing room seating will be accommodated.
If everything goes well in November, the door could be open to future events.
“If we are able to get things off to a good start, we’d like to think that there would be more,” Griffin said.
While the relationship between Lehigh athletics and the PPL Center seems to be one that will tread slowly, there is a distinct opportunity that is presented by the new arena. The Villanova game is the first opportunity for Lehigh and the PPL Center to partner in a way that is beneficial to both entities.