It took almost five minutes before Campbell scored Thursday night and the home fans could finally sit down.
Who could really complain? Six months ago, the very idea that Campbell might host the Big South men’s basketball tournament was unimaginable. That the Camels were playing at home Thursday was a reflection of not only of some odd circumstances, but the university’s ambition.
When scheduled host Coastal Carolina announced in October it was leaving for the Sun Belt, the Big South yanked the tournament away. Campbell’s bid was chosen from among the four schools that offered to host, but the university was left with a mere 120 days to prepare. The high-definition video board hanging over the court is only 2 weeks old.
“To turn it around in a short time frame, with all the circumstances we were dealing with, is pretty impressive,” Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander said. “You never want to have to go through something like that. We had a great run down there (in Myrtle Beach, S.C.).”
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The Big South’s visit to Campbell this weekend closes a circle that was broken two decades ago when Campbell left for the Atlantic Sun amid a fit of old-school Baptist foot-stomping about Sunday games. The Camels rejoined the Big South in 2011, at a time of rapid expansion for Campbell.
The campus seems to be growing exponentially, from the new health sciences campus rising along Highway 421 to the new press box crowning the football stadium. Hosting the tournament is merely another step in that direction.
While no one will ever confuse Buies Creek with Myrtle Beach, Campbell sees this weekend as an opportunity to show just how far it has come.
“The preconceived notion of coming here, it was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re coming to Bugtussle. We’re coming to Mayberry’ ” Campbell athletic director Bob Roller said. “But when you walk into this arena and just take it in, it has the feel of an NCAA tournament.”
The geography does create some unavoidable logistical complications. Campbell tried to address as many of them as possible in advance.
Conference officials are based in Harnett County, but the teams are staying in full-service hotels in Wake County, with access to practice facilities at N.C. State and elsewhere. Team buses are offered police escorts back and forth to Campbell, while coaches are offered courtesy cars.
“It’s strange how everything occurred, but I think the league did the best job they could of trying to locate a facility that could host,” High Point coach Scott Cherry said. “Obviously you’d like to be in a central location with the hotels and stuff, and not be 45-50 minutes away. But we’re used to doing this.”
Having cooperated with the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance to host NCAA championships in Cary, Campbell has borrowed liberally from Raleigh’s NCAA subregional manual, from the signage inside and outside the arena to parking and transportation to hospitality to backstage facilities.
That effort extended as far as the fast-food joints at the corner of Highways 401 and 421 in Lillington, a few miles off campus, all of which had “Welcome Big South Tournament” on their marquees.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed. Even after the disappointment of watching his team’s season end, Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh insisted on offering his unsolicited support for Campbell’s last-minute efforts.
“This is really difficult, and I want to thank Bob Roller and his staff for what they’ve done,” Radebaugh said. “This is first-class, the way we were greeted, the locker rooms, the hotels.”
Campbell’s biggest unknown was the host team. The Camels already had been picked to finish 10th when Campbell put the bid together, so the finances weren’t predicated on selling any tickets to see the Camels after Thursday night.
That’s for the best, because the Camels lost 79-69 to Gardner-Webb, consoled only by the knowledge that the tournament they’re unexpectedly hosting is off to a better start.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock