Workers pieced together 397 northern maple hardwood panels to create a basketball court inside U.S. Bank Stadium on Friday, capping off the building modifications required to host next week's NCAA Men's Final Four.
"This is a basketball arena right now," stadium general manager Patrick Talty said, offering the first public view of the stadium's enhancements.
In addition to the 18,000 temporary seats, the octagon scoreboard hanging 100 feet above the hardwood, and the new black drapes preventing sunlight from entering the stadium, a crew of 26 from Connor Sports and U.S. Bank Stadium assembled each of the 188-pound panels for the court that will be used in college basketball's biggest event.
"We're literally seeing the last pieces fall into place right before our eyes," said Kate Mortenson, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Local Organizing Committee.
Starting in 2006, Connor Sports has manufactured each of the 70- by 140-foot courts for the big game, and on Friday had staff members on hand to supervise stadium workers in piecing the puzzle together. In addition to the Final Four court, the Michigan-based company produced every court used throughout this year's NCAA tournament, Brian Klein of Connor Sports said.
"We are kind of a well-oiled machine; our team can come in and [install the floor] quickly and easily because everybody has so much experience doing it," Klein said.
The process of assembling the court essentially began in September, when Connor Sports harvested northern maple trees in northern Wisconsin, Klein said.
At center court is a logo showing the state of Minnesota.
The top portion of the logo mirrors the stadium's shape and includes four trees and four stars. The trees represent the final teams, while the three smaller stars highlight Minneapolis' past Final Fours, and the larger star represents this year. A flowing river at the bottom represents the Mississippi, Mortenson said.
U.S. Bank Stadium will be open to the public Friday for anyone to view the changes after months of renovations. The semifinals will be played April 6, and the championship April 8.
David Mullen is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.