CONWAY — When womens basketball coach Alan LeForce would bring in recruits for visits to Coastal Carolina University in recent years, hed show off the schools growth and highlight its investment in athletics. Hed take the prospective players to the football stadium and field house, the baseball and softball complexes and the tennis courts. All around campus for that matter.
Last and certainly least came the Chanticleers outdated basketball facility.
We would bring people in, recruits, and the first thing they want to see is the last thing we would show them, he said.
Facilities were always brought up, CCU mens basketball coach Cliff Ellis said of his own recruiting challenges.
But those days are now in the past.
Coastals new on-campus arena and student recreation center newly minted as The HTC Center is finally complete and open for business, and as students return to school for the start of classes Monday, theyll be able to get their first look at the new building that in addition to housing the basketball and volleyball teams is also home to the universitys new bookstore and a sizable recreation center featuring an indoor track and climbing wall.
The building is holding its official grand opening Monday with a dedication ceremony at 5:30 p.m., but the coaches have been in the facility since last month settling into their new offices and appreciating that while it was a short move across campus the venue has brought the programs a long way from the days of cramped Kimbel Arena.
This is the best thing thats ever happened for basketball at Coastal Carolina. Period, LeForce said.
The school initially hoped to unveil the building in time for the start of last season with a marquee mens basketball matchup against Southeastern Conference foe LSU arranged for the occasion. Construction delays pushed the long-awaited project back further and there are a few finishing details still left to complete including a $200,000 signage package that should start being installed next week but for all intents and purposes the wait is over.
[CCU president David] DeCenzo talks about this building and everybody walking in and saying Wow, CCU athletic director Hunter Yurachek said earlier this week, standing on the court and pointing out some of the highlights. I take people to Kimbel and then bring them here just to really put in perspective where weve come from with this facility.
And the reaction he gets?
Wow on both ends, Yurachek said.
The HTC Center features about 3,200 seats 662 chair-back seats on one side of the court behind the team benches, 814 bench-back seats on the other side, about 700 on each end (including one end reserved for students), 40 courtside seats, 35 each in two corner balcony sections that can be rented out each game as a package with catering and then additional seating in the spacious Chanticleer Athletic Foundation and presidents suites that run the length of one side.
In comparison, Kimbel Arena held just 1,039 seats and ranked as one of the smallest Division I basketball facilities in the country.
Yurachek notes that Coastal had already sold approximately 700 season tickets by the first week of August, whereas season tickets were capped at about 425 previously.
Also, the new venue has five concession stands and five sets of restrooms compared to just one food stand and one pair of mens and womens restrooms in Kimbel, and the new bookstore features an expansive offering of Chants apparel as opposed to the eight-foot merchandise table that used to account for the team store during games.
Leading his third tour of the day, Yurachek points out the new video boards on either end of the court, the new overhead scoreboard and courtside LED boards. He shows off the new locker rooms, auxiliary training room and players lounge, and upstairs the coaches offices and expansive suites overlooking the court.
He guesses hes given this tour about 30-35 times already in the last month.
Ill continue to give it as many times as people want it, he added.
Ellis and LeForce, meanwhile, look forward to being able to give the tour to prospective recruits.
LeForce says now that hes settled in at The HTC Center, his trips back to Kimbel Arena to retrieve things have really put the move in perspective for him.
When youre in a place for 15 years, you get used to it, he said. Well, being here and having to go back there two or three times to get things and then looking at it, you go, well, I dont know how we did what we did, to be honest. It was a high school [gym]. It might have been maybe the worst gym in Horry County, I dont know. Ive been in a lot of them better for high school. Now we can get things going. This program will take off.
He says this while sitting in his new office as a bit of sunlight comes through the window behind him, another nice change for he and Ellis after years spent in small windowless cinderblock offices while their assistant coaches crammed into tight shared quarters that in some cases were no more than closest-like spaces.
More importantly, after having only two baskets to work with before, the teams now have no such constraints as the bleachers and seats push back on the court to allow for ample practice space and use by multiple teams at one time if necessary.
When I look back, Im going to look back with a lot of pride for the last five years, and coach LeForce should too, said Ellis, who is entering his sixth season with the program. We had two baskets to practice on. We couldnt shoot foul shots the way we needed to. We couldnt get individual work when we needed to. We did manage it because we would bring guys in during the day between classes so we could get shots. We couldnt legitimately work on our shooting during practice. And [theres] the critical part of the year where youve got mens basketball, womens basketball, volleyball going on at the same time, so were trying to find a place off-campus to work. Ive never had a tougher working environment in my life than the five years at Kimbel, but we managed it and when I look back at those five years and where its come I do it with pride.
Despite their obstacles, Ellis Chants have gone 75-25 the last three seasons while winning two regular-season Big South Conference championships and earning three postseason appearances.
And now, he says, Its a new day, and hes ready to see what they can do with a facility to match their growing program.
As he put it, Its a dream come true for everybody.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.