Noisy preparations were still being made, but the court stayed quiet and absent of activity. The parquet floor at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium will soon include the South Carolina Gamecocks, but Thursday morning all it hosted were reflections of four state-of-the-art video boards.
USC won’t raise its first Final Four banner until Monday’s home opener against Western Michigan. On Friday night, though, in another team’s gym, Frank Martin’s program will be honored in unique fashion.
Wofford will run the Carolina intro video normally reserved for games at Colonial Life Arena. For the Terriers, it’s their way of thanking the Gamecocks for attending their housewarming party. Tip time for the 2017-18 opener is 7 p.m.
“I can’t imagine a better opponent to open this building with than the state university and coach Martin and the Gamecocks,” said Wofford coach Mike Young. “We certainly wanted a marquee name for the first one – and we got that. The people of South Carolina were kind enough to make this possible, and we couldn’t be more appreciative.”
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Young spoke with a reporter Thursday from his plush office drenched still in new arena smell. After 36 years at Benjamin Johnson Arena, Wofford has a new place. The 3,400-seat Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium, named after the school’s famous alumnus who donated to the construction, represents Carolina’s first season opener on the road since 2005. It’s also been 12 years since the last time the Terriers opened at home.
This type of game is rare. Of the 11 SEC teams facing non-Power 5 opponents Friday, 10 of them are at home.
Martin, who hasn’t had a drink in 11 years, joked Wednesday he’s got a bottle of Scotch waiting for him.
“I can’t lie to you, it sounded like a great idea a year ago and I’ve been trying to fire myself the last two days,” Martin said, “but it’s the right thing to do.
“They’re a good basketball team. It’s gonna be a great challenge. I’m sure it’s going to be a crazy atmosphere. All those things make us better.”
The game was announced in June, bringing attention to something that was in the works well before then.
Wofford publicized plans for its new arena in November 2014. Wofford athletics director Richard Johnson began visualizing opening night shortly thereafter.
Fans would be attracted to the gorgeous facility, sure, but what would up the ante? He looked 90 miles down the road.
“They would have not been our first choice from an easy game perspective,” Johnson said. “But I think just the notoriety of having the state university christen the new facility was important. Again, it speaks to both the character and the kind of person (Carolina AD) Ray (Tanner) is and Frank is to just be respectful and thoughtful to what it would mean to Mr. Richardson. I think it says a lot about Ray.”
Even in his final season as baseball coach, Tanner bused the Gamecocks, then reigning national champions, to Furman and The Citadel for games.
“He would take the University of South Carolina around the state,” Johnson said. “So it was important to him, if you’re gonna be at the state university with the name, that you get out to your fan base.”
Martin, who has signed up to play at Coastal Carolina in 2019, called a game such as Friday’s a “chance to grow basketball.” It’s been sold out for two months.
“Mr. Richardson has made a commitment to build them a state-of-the-art facility,” Martin said. “Mike’s worked his tail off to build an unbelievable program there at Wofford. It would be pretty selfish on my part if I didn’t sign up to do this to show our state and show the country just what a real good basketball coach Mike Young is.”
Young is 248-226 in 15 seasons at Wofford. His tenure includes four NCAA tournament appearances and a 2009 win against South Carolina.
He was in University of Phoenix Stadium last April when the Gamecocks played Gonzaga in a national semifinal.
“I can remember vividly thinking to myself that their next game could be in Spartanburg, in our facility,” Young said. “(The Final Four) is an even added bonus. What he’s created there has been a lot of fun for me to witness and to observe and learn.
“We’re really excited to have them up.”
USC at Wofford
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Wofford’s Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium (3,400 capacity)
How to watch: ESPN3/WatchESPN app