For a half a century, Cassell Coliseum has provided Virginia Tech with one of the greatest home courts in all of men’s college basketball. Winning has been the norm in the facility since its opening in 1961, and Cassell is perhaps even more exciting today than ever in its history.
|Seasons in Use||54th Season|
|Overall Record||545-183 (.749) Games: 728|
|ACC Record||46-45 (.505) Games: 91|
|vs. Non-Conference||383-68 (.849) Games: 451|
|vs. Ranked Teams||15-45 (.250) Games: 60|
On Jan. 8 of 2011, the Virginia Tech men’s basketball program won its 500th game at Cassell. That same season, the coliseum celebrated its 50th anniversary, and the Tech athletics department recognized the golden anniversary by bringing back many of the former great men’s basketball players and coaches who have played in the arena. That group included the first team to play in Cassell – a team that included such greats as Howard Pardue, Bucky Keller, Lee Melear and Frankie Alvis, who scored the first points in the coliseum.
Construction for the main portion of Cassell began in 1961, and though not completed, the Tech men’s basketball team opened the arena on Jan. 3, 1962, with a 91-67 victory over Alabama. The team played in the building for two years before workers from T.C. Brittain and Company of Decatur, Ga., finished the building in December of 1964 at a cost of $2.7 million.
For years, the arena was called the Virginia Tech Coliseum. But on September 17, 1977, Virginia Tech officials and friends dedicated the coliseum in honor of the late Stuart K. Cassell, who spearheaded the project. In the late 1950s, Cassell, who was the chief business officer at the time and later became the vice president of the school, saw the need for a new basketball arena to replace the outdated War Memorial Gymnasium, and he eventually managed to get the state legislature to approve the building of the 8,000-seat arena. Cassell, though, found a seat manufacturer that made seats a little smaller than normal seats and squeezed an extra 2,000 seats into the building, bringing the capacity to 10,000.
Since that time, Cassell Coliseum has undergone many renovations and additions to make it the building it is today. The latest addition came in the fall of 2013 when Tech officials hired Panasonic to install two new video scoreboards with high-definition LED displays on each end of the arena. The scoreboards are 18 feet high and 29 feet wide – m ore than double the size of the previous video scoreboards – and enhance the fan experience. Combined with a new video scoreboard for Lane Stadium, the Hokies’ football home, and a new control room, the project cost nearly $7 million.
Other improvements have been made. Prior to the 2003-04 season, the concourse area was renovated and now features more accessible concession areas, new flooring, video monitors that allow fans to watch the action when not in the arena and the addition of Hokie stone to many of the entrances to the seating area. In 2001-02, the seats were stripped of their original paint and refinished to retain their natural wood look. In 1996-97, workers replaced the roof of the facility and installed structural access to the heating and lighting systems. They also restored and resealed the exterior concrete walls and buttresses.
In the 1990s, a generous donation from Pat and Sandy Cupp enabled the athletics department to renovate the men’s basketball locker room, providing for new lockers, showers and a team lounge completed with new furniture and a big-screen television. The locker room was named the Bill Foster Basketball Suite in honor of former Tech coach Bill Foster, who rebuilt Tech’s basketball program in the early 1990s.
Through new projects, renovations and maintenance reserve projects, Cassell Coliseum has undergone approximately $10 million in improvements over the past decade.
Tech fans have always been passionate about basketball, but especially since the school joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2003. Tech led the nation in increased attendance during the 2004-05 season – the school’s first season in the ACC – averaging 9,406 per game, the largest average attendance in coliseum history. That record was broken again after 2005-06, as the Hokies averaged 9,764 per game, and once again after the 2006-07 season at 9,822 per game.
The arena has become a pit for opponents. On Feb. 26, 2011, the Hokies stunned top-ranked Duke 64-60 on a day when ESPN College GameDay came to Blacksburg for the first time. On Jan. 13, 2007, the Hokies defeated top-ranked North Carolina 94-88 in front of another full house in the Cassell. And just eight days later, the Hokies downed No. 22 Maryland 67-64 in overtime. That game was played in front of 8,500 fans – mostly students who braved an ice storm to make Cassell Coliseum the tough home court that it has come to be.
The big wins date back to the 1960s when the arena first opened. In December of 1962, Pardue, Melear and company destroyed fifth-ranked Mississippi State, 82-65. Two years later, Tech beat third-ranked Vanderbilt. In the late 1970s, Ron Bell rallied Tech from a 25-point deficit with 15 minutes to go (and an 11-point deficit with 1:54 left) to an unbelievable 70-69 victory over Memphis State. A year later, Bell and Tic Price led the Hokies to an 87-71 blasting of 10th-ranked Syracuse.
In the 1980s, Dale Solomon, Dell Curry and Bimbo Coles provided some incredible memories. Curry helped Tech stun top-ranked Memphis 69-56 in 1983, and his 28 points lifted Tech to a 76-72 victory over the second-ranked Tigers in 1986.
The 1990s, of course, provided more thrills, especially under Foster. In 1995, Travis Jackson’s jumper buried New Mexico State in the NIT, and Tech fans stormed the floor, as the Hokies advanced to Madison Square Garden, where they would ultimately capture the NIT crown. Many consider that game and the 1986 game against Memphis as the loudest the Coliseum has ever been.
There have been four perfect season records for the men’s basketball team in Cassell: two 10-0 years (1961-62 and 1965-66), an 11-0 campaign (1972-73) and a 14-0 season (1975-76). The Hokies have lost only one game on their home court in 11 other years, including 13-1 records in 1977-78 and 1987-88.
As evidenced by all those wins, Cassell Coliseum today ranks as one of the most difficult places for opposing teams to play and is considered one of the best home environments in all of college sports.
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