Memories are all that remain at Paine's gym

Corey Perrine/Staff
Augusta State's Jarquella Woods defends against Paine's Antionette McPhail Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010 at Paine College in Augusta, Ga. ASU downed Paine 52-37.

Carter Gymnasium will live on after Thursday's closing ceremony -- if only in Dr. Roscoe Williams' dreams.


"I still dream that I'm playing here sometimes," said Williams. "I dream I'm taking that shot ... and I haven't missed one yet. Not a week passes that I don't have it."

It's no wonder considering Williams' history with the Paine College pillbox at the end of Laney Walker Boulevard. The cozy 58-year-old gym was a gleaming new facility when Williams played here for coach James Brown from 1954-58.

Williams didn't miss many shots back then, either. He averaged 32 points per game (still a school career record) when he played for Paine after starring up the road at Laney High School. His picture appeared in The Augusta Chronicle -- not in the sports section but under "News of Negro Interest" -- back in 1956 after he scored 45 points against Chaflin (S.C.) University and missed only two field goal attempts in the game.

The clock peeled back more than a half century when Williams returned Thursday night to see cross-town rivals Paine and Augusta State say goodbye to Carter Gym with the last men's basketball game here. Little has changed in the place since he played -- from the very same hardwood floor that vibrates as 10 players charge from end to end to the purple-and-white concrete bleachers that rise up only one side of the court.

"It's very sentimental, obviously," said Williams. "There's not a time when I walk in this building that I don't get the same sense I had as a player."

Not even Paine coach Ron Spry-- with the majority of his more than 500 career wins in Carter -- has more of a connection to the gym than Williams. He also coached here from 1963-67 -- one team boasting three men on the coaching staff and four players on the court who eventually earned Ph.D.s.

In the years since he's had the privilege of working in the administration at both Paine and Augusta State. He operated the game clock at Augusta State for 40 years and often kept stats at Paine as well.

So it's only natural that Williams hates to see the old gym get replaced. He's hopeful they can keep some part of it alive when it gives way to a new 5,000-seat multi-purpose facility next season.

"People have always seen it as a matchbox and sort of denigrated it," he said. "Some of it rightfully so. But I always liked how close it was, how you fell out of bounds into somebody. And it was always packed, even back then."

There is something sad when a place that is so much a part of a college community gets replaced in the name of progress. There is a charm in even the homeliest of gyms. You feel it on a cold December night when you walk through the dark to where the warmth from inside glows through the windows below the rook line.

Frankly, space is overrated. The most revered college arenas in the nation are the ones that resisted the siren song of expansion.

The best atmosphere in sports remains at Duke, where the old gothic structure was long ago deemed so newfangled that they dubbed it Cameron Indoor Stadium.

A basketball soul is never the same once it has experienced a Duke-North Carolina game inside Cameron.

But it wasn't so long ago that Cameron was just one of many places just like it right there along Tobacco Road. The Tar Heels of Michael Jordan's vintage played in claustrophobic confines of Carmichael Auditorium, where it once got so loud under the low ceiling that Ralph Sampson and his Virginia team couldn't hear their names being announced in the pre-game.

At the other corner of the triangle was N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum, a narrow, two-tiered cigarette case of a building that was good enough for David Thompson to reign. Students filled the six rows of seats that lined the court level, while the steep 16 rows in the upper tier practically overhung the benches.

But UNC and N.C. State moved into cavernous state-of-the-art facilities, losing something priceless in the transition.

College basketball as a whole loses a little something every time one of these "Pits," as they are often called, gets abandoned. For every Cameron or Hinkle Fieldhouse (Butler) that remain, dozens of others disappear. Oregon will vacate its incomparable MacArthur Court next season for the most expensive facility ever built by the riches from the Nike empire.

And so the Lions' Den at Paine took its final bow somewhat ingloriously Thursday night. By the time the clock ran out in an ugly 59-39 Augusta State win, the 800 or so who packed the gym at the start had already exposed the purple and white bleachers again.

Roscoe Williams never missed that many shots. Now his dreams are all that's left from the glory of Carter Gym.