Ask the average sports fan about Clemson University, and the likely response will involve something about football. Death Valley is, after all, one of the more renowned college football experiences in the country. Just outside Memorial Stadium’s gates, though, another important piece of Clemson history finds its home.
Littlejohn Coliseum opened in 1968, and it has served to be quite the home floor for the Tigers. Stars such as Tree Rollins, Dale Davis and Horace Grant have taken the floor here, and 11 NCAA tournament teams, three Sweet Sixteen clubs and one Elite Eight participant have represented Clemson since Littlejohn opened its doors.
Sure, Death Valley gets all the love from sports fans for its history, but there is much to offer at Littlejohn Coliseum. The Atlantic Coast Conference is one of the top basketball conferences in the nation, and with Clemson’s surroundings outside and great basketball inside, this is quite the intriguing destination for college basketball lovers.
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A number of offerings await you at the numerous stands around the Littlejohn Coliseum concourse. Standard fare is easily acquired, including popcorn ($3), hot dogs ($3.50 for a regular, $4.50 for a jumbo), chips ($2), candy ($3), soft pretzels ($4) and peanuts ($5 for roasted, $6 for boiled). Rounding out the "standard" portion of the menu are nachos ($5), hamburgers ($5) and cotton candy ($4).
Southern chain FATZ Café offers orders of their calabash chicken ($7) at the fixed stands. Calabash chicken is simply chicken strips with a light breading. The placement on the menu board appears to pair the chicken with bacon cheddar fries ($5). Bratwurst ($5) is also available, and while this is a tailgating favorite across the street, brats and basketball are not a common combination in the southeastern United States.
Coca-Cola is the campus' bottler, offering Coke, Diet Coke, Cherry Coke and Sprite in regular souvenir ($5), small souvenir ($4), 20-ounce bottle ($4) and double-walled logo cup ($13) sizes. Coffee and hot chocolate are also available for $4, and despite what most would think of South Carolina, this is a welcome touch on cold nights in the Palmetto State.
The inability to see the game action from the concourse may seem to be a problem to most fans, but that problem is quickly overcome by the views afforded once you return to the seating area. There is a small hallway area leading to the seats, and once you complete the walk through the hallway, the arena opens up in front of you. A concourse separates the lower level from the upper level, and while this is good for visibility, the steps up or down from the concourse are very steep.
The Clemson pep band is seated behind the basket in the closed end of the arena, and though they are reasonably small in numbers, they are quite the lively group. The band plays during some timeouts, as well as actually singing a bit. Opposing free throw shooters are occasionally serenaded - Christmas carols were even sung using the shooter's name on the night I visited - and distracted by funny faces, movements and signs.
The school employs cheerleaders and a dance team, and both groups perform during breaks in the action. The cheerleaders perform an interesting act when Clemson players shoot free throws at the opposite end of the floor. After a made free throw, each of the three cheerleaders on the baseline does a back flip. The cheerleaders and dance team help with some of the giveaways during the game, and they line up together on the free throw line as the alma mater is sung after each game.
There is an in-game emcee named JDew, and he oversees the game and halftime promotions. This is a reasonably uncommon sight at basketball games in the area, and it is surprisingly quite welcome. Many in-game hosts can be annoying, but he keeps the action moving and makes timeouts much more fun. As such, the promotions seem a lot more relaxed.
Clemson is very much a self-contained area, which makes for a quite cool "college town" setting. The streets are not littered with chain restaurants and neon, but smaller neighborhood taverns. Friars Tavern and the Esso Club are a short walk from the campus, just across Old Greenville Highway (South Carolina Highway 93). Many of these taverns offer various drink specials - some even offer options for the whole family - and welcome basketball fans for food, drink and fellowship. TD's is just off Old Greenville Highway on College Avenue, and it offers very similar fare.
Clemson is also a great area for lovers of nature. Tiger Park is within walking distance of Littlejohn Coliseum, and the pastoral setting of the Clemson campus gives one the feeling of a walk in the country. Lake Hartwell is also quite close, so if you are a fan of water-skiing, fishing or boating, this is a great option.
For those who simply require chain restaurants, multi-screen movie theaters and standard city fare, this can all be found in neighboring Anderson. Anderson is approximately 15 minutes away via South Carolina 28 and US Highway 76.
Before we continue, it deserves noting that we visited Littlejohn Coliseum during a period when the students were on break. This provides a bit of a different atmosphere from what one might ordinarily encounter when visiting for an ACC game.
Despite Clemson's reputation among some as a football school, many basketball loyalists fill the seats at Littlejohn. Sure, the arena will not be packed to the rafters for games played during breaks, but those who attend certainly get involved in the action. We mentioned the band earlier, and the band helps to encourage the crowd.
Hearing the chants of "Tiger Meat!" and playful heckling of opposing players adds a bit of interest, as well. The fans gather to sing the alma mater before and after each game, and the Clemson orange throughout the stands leaves the clear impression that whether there is a full house or a lesser crowd, they all love their Tigers.
For those traveling by air, Clemson is most easily served through Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP). Travel time from the airport to the campus is between 45 and 55 minutes. Atlanta may also be an option for some, but this makes for a two-plus hour trek once your plane lands. Though Greenville-Spartanburg is not ideal in terms of proximity, it is preferable to other options. There are no interstate highways that serve Clemson. US Highways 123 and 76 serve the area, along with South Carolina Highways 28 and 93.
Parking is also a bit of a struggle at times. Many of the lots surrounding Littlejohn Coliseum are listed for certain types of permits, with the only clearly-signed public parking being the football parking areas. The university offers a parking map on its website, but it can be rather confusing for those unfamiliar with the campus. There are a number of visitor parking spots along Williamson Road, which runs behind Memorial Stadium. If these spots are available, it is recommended to park here and avoid the hassle. Also, be careful where you try to turn, as many streets are blocked off to permit-only traffic.
Inside the arena, the concourses are wide and offer a lot of visual interest. Restrooms are reasonably plentiful and clean. There are very few concerns with lines for restrooms or concessions, which helps to quickly return you to your seat and the quality basketball inside.
It is really tough to beat $18 per ticket to see ACC basketball. Sure, most of the courtside and lower-level seats are reserved for those who are key contributors and students, but the sight lines and upgraded seats in Littlejohn Coliseum make for good value anywhere in the building. If you add the ticket, a regular hot dog, a regular soda and a program, your total is $25.50 per person. It is a quite pleasant surprise to be able to take a family of four to see basketball at this level for just over $100.
Depending on the gate through which you enter, one of the first things you will encounter is the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame. Commemorative plaques line the walls of the concourse, including a brief bio on each inductee. Clemson is a university that loves to honor its history - there is a Heisman Street on campus, should you need further proof - and this is yet another way to tip the cap to those who have starred in Clemson orange. Several trophy cases are also placed about the concourse, allowing fans the chance to witness firsthand the fruits of Clemson's sporting labors.
Speaking of honoring history, banners for the retired numbers of Banks McFadden, Tree Rollins and Dale Davis hang from the rafters. The school's postseason appearances are also honored through these banners - orange for men's basketball, purple for women's basketball. Along with the historic aspect, this creates a pretty cool visual touch.
There is a Guest Relations booth along the concourse, which helps fans get answers to questions, order tickets and do all things Clemson. A souvenir stand and play area for kids are also nearby, making it easy for Tiger fans to address their concerns, buy gear and let their children work off their energy in one convenient area of the building. I was impressed by the friendly staff in all of these areas during my visit.
Giveaways are a big part of games, and Clemson gets it right when it comes to free items. Tables are set up just inside the doors with free programs, posters, schedules and other Clemson-branded items. I saw several fans partaking of those items as I passed by on my visit, and a helpful staff member was also explaining what each item represented. Some lucky fans also receive free concession items and t-shirts as promotional items during timeouts.
WCCP-FM (104.9) is the flagship radio station for Clemson sports, and Pete Yanity is on the call for every basketball game. Yanity is one of the leading sports voices in South Carolina, serving as the sports director for the CBS affiliate (WSPA) in Greenville-Spartanburg in addition to his duties at Clemson. He is also a reporter for the preseason television broadcasts of the Carolina Panthers.
The two major universities in South Carolina are quite interesting studies in contrast. South Carolina is in the SEC, while Clemson is in the ACC. Columbia is the state's capital and is a large city center, and Clemson is more of a rural setting. No matter whether you hail from a small town or a big city, it is easy to feel comfortable on Clemson's campus. All roads may not lead to Littlejohn Coliseum, but if you are looking for a new spot to add to your itinerary, you are sure to discover that there is more to Clemson than just football.
Littlejohn is one of my favorite arenas. Love the "college town" feel of Clemson. The band, cheerleaders, dance team, etc are some of the best. Atmosphere is top notch.
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