Memories of Kimbel: From the ruins, a University rises

Tonight’s 2011-12 season opener, the final year the Chanticleers will play in Kimbel Arena, marks the start of the 19th year of my involvement with Coastal Carolina University.

At the time, I was working the radio broadcast with the longtime voice of the Chanticleers, Bo Graham, and relative newcomer on the scene, Allen Smothers. Bo was there when the Chants went to the NCAA Tournament. Bo was also there when the phrase “moon shot” was being used to describe an outside shot by Dave Mooney. It was Bo’s “Catch phrase” while Mooney was there. Bo’s other catch phrase was “From the land of three”, and when Allen agreed to begin doing the games , Bo continued to use the phrase on air. For three or four years, the three of us traveled the country doing the games on the radio for the newly separated school from USC.

The “gym” that all games were played in is located in the same location as the current “Arena”. Kimbel Gym was small and the bleachers that pulled out did indeed make it look like a high school gym. There were complaints about the size even then. In reality, if you traveled to some of the other gyms in the Big South Conference, things didn’t get much better at that level. UNC Asheville might have been even worse.

The players, the teams, the uniform styles, and the coaches have all come and gone during the 18-year period, but Kimbel has always provided the constant. At any game, you’ll see the faithful Chants wearing their teal, you’ll have the administration standing on the floor near the doorways, Wayne White will be sitting at the scorer’s table, Andy Hendricks will be around, Buddy Sasser will be shaking someone’s hand, and over the last 14 years, Matt Hogue has been at the media table with a headset on.

Some may criticize the job various coaches have done, but they seemed to all do the very best they could with the situation they were faced with. We’ll start with Russ Bergman. Standard story, he took a small school to the big time, was accused of cheating and resigned in March of 1994.

Michael Hopkins was hired with restrictions on the program that made it very difficult to have success with. He endured, and got the program through. Some say he was hired just for that reason, to maintain. Problem is, Mike is very competitive, and he believes in what he does.

Pete Strickland rolled into town next and continued building the programs. I say programs, plural, because Pete was directed to play a lot of “Money Games”. That’s when you play a much better team, knowing you’re going to get killed, but that your school is going to make a lot of money on the deal from the host school. Pete was building the basketball program, and the future football program with the funds that were generated.

Big-time Buzz Peterson  came to Myrtle Beach with a lot of fan fare. As a close friend of Michael Jordan’s, former Tennessee coach, and a protégé of Dean Smith and Roy Williams, the time was right for the program to kickstart. Peterson did just that, with flair. If you were to peek into Peterson’s home  closet you’d only find very nice suits or gym pants and polos. I don’t think I ever saw him in anything else.He seemed aloof to many, but he got the job done and in reality, I just think a lot of people wanted to be associated with him because of his past. Everywhere he went people wanted to say hey, or shake his hand, or get a picture, or get him to sign something, you get the idea. We all knew that he was short term though. Buzz was using the Coastal job as a spring board and everyone knew it.

And now Cliff Ellis. Number 8 on the list of winningest active coaches. Among those above him on the list, Roy Williams, Coach K, Jim Boeheim, Bob Huggins, and Jim Calhoun. Coach Ellis is in some elite company. Last year’s team was one game away from the NCAA tournament, going 28-6 on the year and leading the conference at the end of the regular season. His teams have provided excitement and at times drama. They are fun to watch, and he has taken the program to the level of the days of Russ Bergman.

When this all began those 18 years ago, Coastal was a small school trying to become a university. They took the name and applied it to their school, and began the growing process. The school now has an exciting football program, successful baseball team, currently Top 10 soccer team, and a basketball team that has returned to prominence. It’s certainly an exciting time to be a Chant.

Kimbel Gym is the last holdout. The expectation was to move into the new Arena, or as they call it “Convocation Center”, at the start of this season. That won’t happen. Some would say it’s a shame. I see it as a second chance.

If you’ll remember back to March 15th of last year. The Chants were the regular season champs. They would be taking on UNC Asheville for the right to go to the NCAA Tournament. The Chants were expected to win this one, but they came out flat. By halftime, it was close to finished, the Chants were down by that much. So, the opportunity to close Kimbel Arena with one last win was missed. Fans went home disappointed and ready for next year.

Now that the Convocation Center is not ready, the Chants will play one last season in the old place. One last season, and one last chance to take that building out in style. Should the Chants take it to the finals of the Big South tournament again this year, I can assure you that there will be three other constants there to witness it. That will be the three men that sat beside each other 18 years ago and began the  start of the 1993 season, the year after the last visit to the NCAA tournament. Bo, Allen, and I have since witnessed the downfall of Bergman and the rise of a University.

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