In Campbell's tiny gym, there's a small piece of history

ByEspn.com News Services
March 08, 2015, 9:40 AM

— -- BUIES CREEK, N.C. -- Robbie Laing heard all the stories about Campbell's Carter Gym before he took his current job as head coach. Still, nothing prepared him for his initial visit to the second-smallest arena in Division I. "I was absolutely stunned when I walked in," he said. "It was clean, it was nice, but, man, it was incredibly small." That was three years ago, and the 53-year-old facility still seats only 947 people, making it slightly bigger than the one at Charleston Southern (798). Yet that ranking hardly is the most notable fact about Carter Gym. It was the site for the longest game on record, a high school matchup in 1964 that went to 13 overtimes. And the annual Campbell Basketball School, where Hall of Famer John Wooden was an instructor for many years during his heyday as UCLA's coach, remains the longest running summer camp in the nation. No wonder folks in this tiny town about 45 miles south of Raleigh are so fond of the historic gym. "It's small, but when it's full, it's better than any big gym I've ever been in," sophomore guard Jake Wohlfeil said. "It's just a great atmosphere." With the Camels (9-16) enjoying a bit of a turnaround this season -- they finished 2-25 a year ago -- the seats have been filled more often. The increase in victories is part of the reason, as is the style of play Laing brought with him after working as an assistant at eight Division I schools -- most recently Kansas State. Campbell already has set school records for 3-pointers made and attempted while averaging 83.7 points, third-best in Division I and well above the previous best for the Camels. Only top-ranked Duke and No. 4 Memphis score more. "Our team has been playing an exciting brand of basketball," athletic director Stan Williamson said. "We're hitting a lot of 3s and doing a lot of good things. And coming into this arena, you only have to have 950 people for it to be full, so most nights, that's the case." Five of the team's 13 home games were sellouts, including two that drew more than capacity, and there was another with only one empty seat. The attendance is actual count, too, even though Campbell certainly doesn't need to pad those numbers. About half of the seats are left to students on a first-come, first-serve basis, and while many take advantage of this, not everyone is completely enamored with Carter Gym. "We're Division I basketball, let's treat our program like it is an elite program," senior Eric Espey said. "It's time Campbell got a renovation." Well, one is coming. The school expects to break ground on a convocation center in September that will house a new arena for the Camels, one that will hold 3,000 fans and include a practice court. Now, the men's team has to share space with the women, as well as the volleyball and wrestling teams. Since there isn't another gym on campus, the schedule must be shuffled to accommodate everyone. If something can't be worked out, someone has to use an area high school. "I like Carter to play games in," Laing said. "I don't like the fact that we're at a severe disadvantage because we don't have a practice facility. I've virtually practiced every hour on the clock except midnight, 1 a.m., 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. I've been in the gym at every other hour." According to Williamson, Campbell has raised more than two-thirds of the $30 million needed to build the new facility. If all goes well, the Camels will be out of Carter Gym by fall 2008. The old gym isn't going anywhere, however, and neither is all its history. That includes that game Feb. 29, 1964, when Boone Trail held off Angier High 56-54 in 13 overtimes. Amazingly, the teams combined for only 18 points following regulation. Each used only five players, with Boone Trail's Frankie Stewart leading all scorers with 29 points. And there's the camp, which now is run by Laing. It was founded by former Campbell coach Fred McCall and former Wake Forest coach Horace "Bones" McKinney in 1956. Over the years, players such as Michael Jordan, James Worthy and the late Pete Maravich assisted with it, along with Wooden. "I really felt more at home there, to be honest with you, since it was a smaller community," Wooden said in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "Most of the other coaches there were from the smaller schools from the area, and I just felt more comfortable with them." It's a feeling shared by the current Campbell players. "There's just something special about this place," Wohlfeil said. "You can feel it every time you come in the gym. I don't think that ever goes away."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events