When mentioning Davidson College -- and particularly Davidson basketball -- to a sports fan, a number of things may immediately come to mind. After all, Davidson is one of the most academically prestigious schools in America, turning out a list of grads that read like a veritable Who's Who. Whether considering a former player that eventually became a Final Four coach (former Davidson, Virginia and ECU coach Terry Holland), successful politicians and judges or best-selling authors, this 1,800-plus student institution's reputation speaks for itself.
There is also the beautiful southern North Carolina setting in which the college can be found. Though the school is 15 minutes or so from uptown Charlotte, it feels years away, featuring a walkable throwback-styled downtown area with endless outdoor activities to be enjoyed. The town itself boasts just greater than 10,000 residents, a clear departure from the bustling metropolis to the south.
Two names above all others have become synonymous with Davidson hoops -- and all Davidson athletics, for that matter: Stephen Curry and Bob McKillop. Curry, largely unheralded as a prep player in Charlotte, made the decision to attend Davidson, and in doing so, put himself and the school on the map. Curry's Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight in his sophomore year (2007-2008), eventually falling 59-57 to a Kansas team that would hoist the hardware just days later. Curry averaged 25.3 points per game in three seasons at Davidson, before leaving school early and becoming a first-round selection of the NBA's Golden State Warriors in 2009. The star guard holds no fewer than nine school, conference and NCAA records from his play as a Wildcat.
As for McKillop, his name is now inextricably linked to Davidson College. The legendary coach has won greater than 60 percent of his career games, with the entirety of his collegiate head coaching experience coming on this campus. The playing surface in the arena in which he coaches now bears his name, allowing the legendary leader's name to be a story told in the halls of this beautiful arena for generations to come.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are not endless stands of culinary delights in Belk Arena, but that's really not a problem. The food concessions are confined to one area just steps outside the arena, labeled "The Wildcat Den." The bulk of the concessions are on the arena lobby's lower level, served from four separate windows.
"Entree" (such as they are) choices are available, and consist of hot dogs ($3.50), corn dogs ($3.50) and chicken sandwiches ($4.50). Nachos ($3.50), soft pretzels ($3.50), popcorn ($3.50) and chips ($2) serve as snack items. Candy bars ($2.50) and gummi candies ($3) might qualify as desserts, should you absolutely need something sweet. Bottled water and soda (Coke products) are available to wash down your food for $3.50. Soda machines can be found in the lobby, but they are turned off during games.
If your tastes lead you toward non-concession foods, there are often stations in the upper part of the lobby featuring regional and national establishments. Domino's often sets up a table with eight-inch cheese or pepperoni pizza ($5) and Coke products ($3). Local chicken chain Tenders also maintains a table.
The arena complex looks rather plain and unassuming from the outside, but don't let the low-key environment fool you. Once inside the Baker Sports Complex, there are many things going on around you. From the spacious lobby with informational and sales tables, televisions and couches to the natatorium on the right side of the main entry area, this is not your average basketball facility. The ticket windows are outside of the group of entry doors, and there is a distinct lack of the long lines one might expect. All one needs to do is simply walk over to a friendly employee and get their ticket scanned, then visit in the lobby or enter the arena itself.
There are no extravagant video presentations or light shows, but this is not really a necessary evil at Davidson. The fans go a long way toward creating the atmosphere (more on this in a bit). Despite the lack of a gigantic centrally-located video board, there is still plenty of real estate dedicated to the game action. There are large scoreboards mounted above the end zone seating on both sides of the floor, with the player information, score, fouls and other pertinent data. There are also smaller scoreboards above the tunnels at either end of the floor.
Davidson features a reasonably-sized (and incredibly loud) pep band, located behind one of the baskets. The band plays during most breaks in the action. Along with the fight song, the music selection is widely varied, and helps add to the college hoops experience.
While speaking of music, there is one tradition to absolutely expect when attending a game at Belk Arena. The Neil Diamond classic "Sweet Caroline" plays -- sometimes in a somewhat jarring techno version -- around the eight-minute mark of the second half. This always draws a huge response from the crowd, especially those in the student section.
Davidson is what most people would likely imagine when thinking of a small southern college town. The town is small and walkable, featuring a number of shops and restaurants to enjoy before or after a game. One such iconic destination is the Soda Shop, a 60-plus year standard. This establishment offers sandwiches and appetizers to satisfy any appetite. The hours are not all that plentiful, though, so be sure to check before you venture over for a bite and a drink. Brickhouse Tavern, Flatiron and Char-Grill are among the other choices within a short drive -- or walk -- of the campus to enjoy before or after a Wildcats game.
Lake Norman is also nearby, affording the opportunity for water sports for anyone so inclined. Charlotte, Huntersville and Mooresville are all nearby, with a seemingly endless supply of dining and nightlife available, along with NASCAR attractions and other sporting events.
If being around a loud and rowdy crowd disturbs your basketball viewing experience, it's best to consider a school other than Davidson. The Wildcat faithful varies in age from kids in grade school to retirees, and they all wear their red and black and cheer their hearts out from tip to buzzer. The fans are as friendly as they are loyal, though -- in most cases. All bets are off if a rival is in town, of course, but visitors will usually be greeted with a smile and a "Go Wildcats!" cheer.
The Davidson student section is unrivaled by anything in the area, and ranks among one of the top groups in the country. The students fill the entirety of the student seating allotment, and sometimes bleed over into the general seating. The group has special chants and cheers, and is standing throughout the game. The groups in the end zones seem to loom over the court, especially while opponents attempt free throws.
Be on the lookout for the "Speedo Guys," members of the Davidson swim team who decide to unveil their swim attire while visiting teams line up for free throws. This is quite the unusual ritual, but also quite successful. A large roar emerges from the crowd each time there is a missed free throw.
Interstate 77 is the main thoroughfare serving Davidson, with Charlotte (and Charlotte International Airport) under a half-hour to the south. Charlotte's bus service (CATS) has a line that travels to Davidson, but it is not necessarily feasible. The ride from Charlotte takes about three hours. North Carolina Highway 115 (Main Street) and US Highway 21 also serve the area, for fans wishing to travel north or south.
There is a large parking area just outside of Belk Arena, but the lot is primarily oriented toward media and season ticket holders. There is overflow parking throughout Davidson's campus and elsewhere in the town. Be sure to visit the school's website for any updates to the existing parking situation to avoid hassles or delays.
Once inside the arena, there is a concourse separating the upper and lower seating areas. This concourse rings the arena itself, allowing fans to see the action from almost any imaginable angle. The steps to the bleacher areas are a bit steep, however, so fans who need extra time to climb those steps should be sure to allow it.
Restrooms are just outside the arena itself, with plenty of facilities available for all fans. The restrooms are clean and well-maintained, and just steps away from the action on the floor.
Tickets are priced at about the level one might expect for basketball at this level, with seats for even the most high-profile of games coming in at less than $25. Most tickets are in the mid-teens, pricewise. This should allow one to get a game ticket, a hot dog and a soda for around $20. While this may not be a steal of a deal, the Atlantic 10 competition that Davidson will welcome to Belk Arena certainly makes a trip to see a game worth the price.
The university will occasionally offer ticket deals, allowing fans to buy tickets to select games for $5. If one of these deals arises, be sure to get in early, as those deals are quickly snapped up by faithful fans.
The wide concourse features a Davidson souvenir shop in the corner furthest from the entry doors. A wide selection of reasonably-priced Wildcat merchandise can be purchased at this stand, including t-shirts, hats and other logo memorabilia. T-shirts with Curry's number 30 can be found at the shop, allowing fans to support the current NBA star.
Among the numerous tables in the lobby, one will find many freebies and offers. One such offer is the free Davidson game program. The program features rosters, program notes and local information.
Banners commemorating the long standing success of Davidson athletics hang high above the court, with their mostly yellow color visible throughout the arena. The banner from Curry's Elite 8 team accompanies a number of flags that celebrate Wildcat athletic history.
Finally, the court being named after McKillop pays homage to the man who largely put Davidson hoops on the map. Many Wildcat greats have made a name for the university, including Curry and Holland, but McKillop has led the program into a new era of elite level basketball. The pads behind each basket are emblazoned with "McKillop Court," which add a nice touch.
Davidson basketball is simultaneously a must-see event and a best-kept secret. This seems odd to say, but this small college with world-class academic offerings and gorgeous scenery offers a basketball atmosphere that takes a back seat to almost no one in the region or the country. If you go to a game at Belk Arena, expect a loud crowd that stays involved the entire evening and knows and loves their Wildcats. If your travels lead you to Charlotte or the surrounding area -- or even if they don't -- a Davidson game is a wise investment for the college basketball newbie and aficionado alike.
John M. Belk Arena, the centerpiece of the Baker Sports Complex, is nestled into a tree-filled corner of the gorgeous Davidson College campus. The Baker Sports Complex is an impressive multi-use athletic complex. In addition to the basketball arena, the complex includes an indoor tennis center, a natatorium, a wrestling center, racquetball & squash courts, a weight room, and many of the athletic administration offices. Opened in time for the 1989 season, Belk Arena is named in honor of former Charlotte mayor, and a former Wildcat basketball captain himself, John M. Belk. With a basketball seating capacity of 5,223, Belk Arena is big enough to pack in a good crowd but small enough to remain very intimate and intimidating to those visiting teams venturing into Belk to play the Wildcats. This home court advantage shows in the statistics. In the previous twenty seasons in Belk Arena, coming into this season, the Wildcats sport a winning percentage of almost 77%. Over the past decade, that number is even more impressive, with the home team winning 117 of 136 games on the hardwood at Belk.
There are a number of great venues in the Southern Conference, and Belk Arena ranks at or near the top of those venues. A lot of the key points of a game at Belk Arena were covered in the review, but there are a few things to add.
The surface lot adjacent to the athletic complex was the one in which I parked when I visited. There were no restrictions on its use on my visit. There may be an attendant on hand to guide you, but the school classifies it as visitor parking.
Davidson is within close proximity to a lot of schools in its conference, so there are a lot of "rivals" whose students will visit Belk Arena. This helps the atmosphere quite a bit, making for a pretty raucous event. The comments about the band are also accurate, as the band serves as one of the stars of the game.
There are also a number of historic venues both on the Davidson campus and around town, so if you want to make a day of it and take in some scenery and history, that is also an option.
For more information on the campus and the town, see my review on Davidson's football facility, Richardson Stadium.
Another classic mid-major venue. If Davidson could add more chairback seats to the scorers' table side and younger passionate fans outside the student section, this would be perfect.
104 S Main St
Davidson, NC 28036
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