Earlier this month, the East Carolina basketball team moved into its brand new, 17-million dollar practice facility, which was recently named the Williams-Smith Center.
Not too long ago, the structure was nothing more than an idea and a promise by ECU coach Jeff Lebo to recruits. A promise that has transformed into an outstanding addition to the university’s lineup of athletics facilities.
“It’s exciting to see a project go from an idea to the final thing,” said head men’s basketball coach Jeff Lebo. “A lot of people have chipped in a lot of different ways to help this become a reality and it’s something we all appreciate and don’t take lightly."
The 49-thousand square-foot building connects to Minges Coliseum and consists of full courts for each the ECU men’s and women’s basketball teams. Unlike its previous practice complex at the North Campus Crossing apartment complex, the players have access to the Williams-Smith Center is available 24 hours per day.
Also, both basketball teams will no longer need to fight for practice time at Minges Coliseum now that they have an exclusive place to call their own; which hasn’t been overlooked.
“It’s been a great feeling,” said senior shooting guard Akeem Richmond, who hit the game-winning shot to clinch April’s CIT championship. “We can come in here 24 hours, and get up a lot of shots and don’t have to wait on volleyball and cheerleading in Minges.”
It didn’t take long for the new facility to impact recruiting. Within 48 hours of being available to the players and coaches on Aug. 31, ECU landed two out-of-state recruits – including four-star, Blanche Ely (Hollywood, Fla.) point guard Lance Tejada, who was listed among ESPN’s Top 100 recruits.
The completion of the Williams-Smith Center adds to what has arguably been the most productive calendar year in the history of ECU basketball. In March, ECU accepted a bid join the American Conference as a full-time member, after only receiving a football invite in November. A couple weeks later, Richmond’s last second three-pointer at Weber State sealed the program’s first post-season tournament win.
And now ECU has a state-of-the-art facility that can stack-up against the nearby ACC schools in the area. Seemingly, with some of the stars aligning, Pirate basketball hopes to continue its progress in 2013-2014 and fully turn the proverbial corner.
“We have a long way to go,” said Lebo. “It’s an exciting time of change in a lot of areas, we have some momentum and we want to continue that.”
“(The facility) is a stepping stone,” added Richmond. “ECU basketball is on the rise. This practice facility means a lot to us and it’s going to bring in a lot of big-time recruits.”
The project isn’t complete yet, though.
When walking through the front doors of the facility, you’re immediately greeted by a massive Pirate logo embedded into the granite floor. Stationed on both sides of the front lobby are two large, empty trophy cases that will soon be the ECU Hall of Fame.
There are still rooms that have yet to be completed and accessories are in the process of being added to the Williams-Smith Center, but most of the work that’s left to do is minor.