When Littlejohn Coliseum reopens for the Clemson men’s and women’s basketball teams this fall, it will be different in many ways than when the Tigers last played there more than a year ago.
Littlejohn, which originally opened in 1968, has been under renovation since May 2015. The project forced the Clemson men to play off-campus last season, at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, while the women played in the smaller Jervey Gym facility.
Clemson expects work to be worth it.
The university remains under its $63.5 million budget for the project, said Joe Simon, associate athletics director of facilities management. Simon said although construction is set to continue for three to four months, Clemson is confident Littlejohn will be ready for the 2016-17 season.
“I think we’ve done a great job,” Simon said. “I can’t think of anything else we wish we could have done that we weren’t able to do with the budget that we had.”
The basketball teams might not be able to fully move into Littlejohn until three or four weeks before the season, but Clemson expects them to be able to practice on the new floor by mid-August.
One of Clemson’s major points of emphasis in renovating Littlejohn Coliseum, Simon said, has been making a commitment to improved technology.
In a time when “you’re competing with the couch,” as potential spectators have the option of staying home and watching games on high-definition TV, Clemson recognized a need to add new innovations to its arena while also improving its Wi-Fi and cell phone coverage.
At least some of those technological improvements will be evident to guests as soon as they enter Littlejohn. The South Hall, which will serve as the main entrance, will welcome fans with a pair of large video boards.
Taking center stage inside the arena will be Littlejohn’s new scoreboard. Featuring a total of six screens, the scoreboard’s main displays will be 16 feet tall by 28 feet wide, making it the longest curved display Daktronics has put in any college arena.
Littlejohn will also have ribbon board displays — 17, in total, of varying lengths — that will cover nearly the entire circumference of the arena. There’ll be more than 100 television screens inside Littlejohn, while the new sound system will be distributed throughout the concourse.
With technological advances in place, Simon believes “the sky’s the limit” on what Clemson will be able to do with Littlejohn.
“Fans are going to have to work with us the first couple games,” Simon said. “There’s obviously a little bit of a learning curve … but we certainly hope that when you walk in game one, it’s significantly better than it was and we hope by game 10, it’s even better than it was from game one.
If Clemson fans need a reason to leave their couches and come to Littlejohn, they should come to experience the “energy” the new building will create, Simon said.
Littlejohn’s new technology will play a role in creating that energy, as its sound system will create more noise while the new lighting is brighter and will focus more light on the game court.
Another aspect that should improve the atmosphere inside Littlejohn, Simon said, is the angle of the lower-level seats. Those seats are now at a slightly steeper angle, and as a result, fans will feel closer to the court and have better sight lines.
“When we brought (men’s basketball coach Brad Brownell) out here, that was his first thought was ‘Man, it seems like they’re right on top of you,’” Simon said.
As part of the new layout, there’ll be a section of orange retractable bleacher seating for students along the sideline, while there will also be bleacher seating for students behind the basket. The rest of the arena’s seats, which have all been replaced as part of the renovation, will be chair-back seats.
For fans willing to dole out extra money, premium seating will be located in the club section, a lower-level section of 400-plus seats in front of an open-air platform that will connect an exclusive club area — complete with a bar, food service and TVs — to the arena bowl.
Clemson’s decision to shift the orientation of the court 90 degrees was made primarily, Simon said, with the vision of using existing structure to design that club area at midcourt.
“This open-air kind of platform as part of the club is very unique,” Simon said. “I’m not aware of any other premium area that’s got this.”
Littlejohn’s new layout, which will have a 9,000-seat capacity, will also include 64 midcourt loge seats — countertop seats on the concourse with one TV per two seats — as well as courtside seats.
Clemson’s basketball players and coaches should benefit from Littlejohn’s redesign as much as anyone.
The men’s and women’s basketball players, which will have equivalent amenities on opposite sides of the court, will have four to five times as much space as they had previously. A new basketball weight room, which includes a full kitchen, will open directly onto the new practice court, which will be “almost double” the size of the old practice court.
Coaches’ offices, which were previously located inside Jervey, will also be inside Littlejohn.
“From an efficiency standpoint, it’s going to be a much better experience for the coaches and players,” Simon said.
The team areas will include a conference room for film breakdown and a recruiting room, a space that will be used to host recruits, but also regularly for team meals. Inside the locker rooms, each team will have a video room with an 82-inch TV, lockers with outlets for charging electronic devices and team lounge areas.
Football fans will also be able to take advantage of the new and improved amenities. Simon expects the South Hall, which will have a raised ceiling and 10,000 total square feet of space, to be a “gathering spot” for fans before football games.
Ultimately, Simon envisions the South Hall being used for non-game day events as well, such as football watch parties during away games and other dinners and functions.
“We don’t currently have this size space in the university’s inventory,” Simon said. “I think from a day-to-day standpoint, that’s going to be a great asset to the university.”
All in all, Simon expects Clemson to be able to use Littlejohn in all the same ways it had previously, but with many new opportunities as well.
“Can’t wait to get to the finish line and open the facility up and let everybody experience game day in here,” Simon said.