Is A&T’s Corbett Center Cameronesque?

I have been in the Aggies’ Corbett Center back in the day when BigHouse Gaines would bring his Ram teams over to Greensboro and it was wild in a fun way to see the place packed to the rafters.

I’ll tell you more one thing, the Aggies have a super cafeteria. I had lunch there today. The mac and cheese, fried chicken and cornbread are excellent. Hard to beat an AggieFeast or an AggieFest and they are getting ready for a big-time blowout when the Rams of Winston-Salem State come to East Market Street on Saturday.

Here’s what John Dell from the Winston-Salem Journal and is saying about The Corbett Center on the N.C. A&T campus:

Opposing teams usually try to ignore the atmosphere at the Corbett Center — N.C. A&T’s quaint on-campus basketball arena — but they rarely succeed.

The Winston-Salem State Rams are no different. They have played in every arena in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference over the past two seasons. But they haven’t found one that compares with the Corbett Center, where A&T students chant, dance and play mind games with opposing players.

Point guard Isiah Tucker of WSSU was a cocky freshman last season when he had his introduction to the Corbett crowd.

“You don’t want to foul out there,” Tucker said this week. “That’s what I’m going to tell all our new guys, because they just kill you.”

As soon as Tucker was whistled for his fifth foul in last year’s 75-56 loss, the chanting started. “Go sit down, hey! Go sit down, hey!” Tucker looked around on his walk to the bench and said he couldn’t believe how in sync the students were.

WSSU will play A&T at the Corbett Center at 4 p.m. Saturday, and the rivalry between the schools is expected to lead to a sellout of the 5,700-seat arena. The teams met in basketball last season after a 10-year break, and nearly 2,000 fans had to be turned away from the game at A&T.

Tucker compares the atmosphere of the Corbett Center to that of Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Duke student section gets more television time on ESPN than some teams.

“That’s probably like Cameron Indoor of this conference,” Tucker said. “And then the whole fouling out thing they do, you don’t want to face that. That’s a game to remember.”

The Corbett Center looks like any other gym when it’s empty. But once fans file in, the multi-purpose arena turns into the Dog Pound, complete with the self-proclaimed Aggie-manics.

Tim Wells, an assistant coach at WSSU, experienced the Corbett Center for the first time last season. He also has experience at Cameron, from his playing days at N.C. State in the late 1990s. He finds the coaching experience at Corbett tougher than the playing experience at Cameron.

“Definitely coaching at Corbett is harder because when you are playing in a place like Cameron Indoor, you don’t hear anything — you are too busy playing,” Wells said. “It’s definitely harder at Corbett because as a coach, you hear everything.”

Despite the hostile crowd, senior Jamal Durham of WSSU said he’s looking forward to Saturday’s game.

“That’s a tough place to play, but that’s one of the best games of the year,” Durham said. “When you have the whole crowd against you, it gets you pumped up. I know we are looking forward to it, and a lot of our guys haven’t been there before, so we just have to be prepared when we go in.”

The Aggies have enjoyed tremendous success at Corbett, compiling a 7-1 record this season with the only loss to Delaware State last month. They finished 15-16 last season but were 9-3 at home.

Coach Jerry Eaves, in his sixth season at A&T, said that having a home court like the Corbett Center is a nice luxury. He stresses, though, that he had nothing to do with the great atmosphere, saying it was there when he took the job.

“We’ve had great crowds,” Eaves said. “Even when we were 1-26, the fans were there.”

Eaves said that the tradition of great basketball crowds goes back to the days of Cal Irvin and Don Corbett, legendary A&T coaches. (The Corbett Center is named for Don Corbett’s great uncle, Ellis F. Corbett.)

“Those are the two guys that started this whole thing,” Eaves said. “It’s just lately we’ve given our fans something to cheer about, especially the last two seasons.”

Eaves said he had one of his fondest Corbett Center memories two or three years ago, during a heated game against Florida A&M. A&T had the lead in the final minute, but two Florida A&M players with four fouls didn’t try to stop the clock because they didn’t want to foul out.

“I’ll never forget that, because we were ahead and Florida A&M’s coach wanted his guys to foul, and they wouldn’t do it,” Eaves said. “That was funny to see.”

â–  John Dell can be reached at