Published: Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 3:15 a.m.
At 81 years old, Dodie Anderson joked that she'd never be able to walk from one end of the University of South Carolina Upstate to the other, with the campus having grown so strikingly since she graduated there in 1981.
But by next winter, Anderson plans to be cozied up in a cushioned seat and cheering on her favorite basketball team inside a renovated Hodge Center that USC Upstate officials said fans won't even recognize when it's complete.
On Wednesday, the university announced plans for an historic renovation of the 36-year-old Hodge Center, thanks to a $4 million gift from Anderson to fund the project. The gymnasium and the rest of the center -- which hosts the men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams, athletics department offices, a student-athlete performance center and athletic training facilities -- will be transformed into a top-of-the-line venue that men's basketball coach Eddie Payne said will rival any in the nation.
"Everything that you see in here, in its entirety, you won't see ever again," Payne said at a news conference inside the Hodge Center, an event that included players of the three sports teams, former longtime hoops coach Jerry Waters and Katie and Susan Hodge -- wife and daughter of the late Dr. G.B. Hodge, the center's namesake. "For those of you who come back here (after the 2009-10 season), you will be shocked; you will amazed. The state-of-the-art stuff that we're going to put in here, you will not recognize it.
"We may be a small arena, but I can promise you we're going to be as good or better than any arena in America."
Plans for the renovation have not been finalized, though construction is expected to begin shortly after the end of this coming basketball season, with the desire to have the work completed by the beginning of the 2010-11 basketball season.
The building will retain its name, and university officials said Anderson requested that no part of the building bear her name.
Anderson, a Greer resident and former co-owner of Clinton-based Anderson Hardwood Floors, said the university "must preserve" the building that was named for "a man with a vision (in founding the university) who didn't quit until he was done."
She also said that with the university's ever-growing student population, "there's no reason why we can't fill this place up for every game. It will be fun to watch."
The gift from Anderson, who was presented a framed basketball jersey with a "6th man" designation on the front, is the largest in the history of the athletics program and second-largest ever for the university.
Payne called it a "momentum-changer" that can "tangibly change our fortunes" as the university begins its third year as a Division I program.
Among the changes inside Hodge will be new separate locker rooms for the women's basketball and volleyball teams, an expanded training facility, and all new furnishings, flooring and lighting down the entire main corridor.
The main focus, however, will be on the gym, which will be completely gutted and refurbished with a new floor, seats and lighting, as well as new basketball goals, scorer's tables and two state-of-the-art video scoreboards.
Payne said the new-look Hodge will give all three coaches inside the building the opportunity to tell recruits they can spend four years in the arena "and play in front of a sellout crowd every time you play."
"It's going to help our program a lot," junior guard Josh Chavis said. "We can bring recruits in and show them the facilities, and I know when I was a recruit, seeing that gets you pumped to say, 'Yeah, I want to play at this university.'"
In addition, Payne said Anderson's gift will increase the program's visibility in the community and help improve fundraising efforts both across the board and in pursuing a second phase of the project.
And if the vision of Anderson, Payne and women's basketball coach Tammy George is realized and the gym indeed is packed nightly, it also will give the Spartans a significant home-court advantage. Payne said seating capacity in the refurbished Hodge will be reduced from about 1,350 to close to 1,100, producing a loud and energetic venue with a feel similar to Duke University's infamously intimate Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"It's a tremendous thing for the university," senior center Nick Schneiders said. "When I come back in a year or two, I'm expecting to see a full house and I can't wait for that. I think people are going to come, and they're going to be blown away by what's going to be here and they'll want to be part of it for sure."