WCU basketball facilities enjoy new improvements
A long-range list of upgrades to Western Carolina University athletics facilities tipped off this fall with a project in support of the Catamount men’s and women’s basketball programs featuring renovated locker rooms, polished and refined players’ lounges with nutrition areas and an updated film room.
“Improving the locker rooms and video room used by our men’s and women’s basketball programs is the first of many projects we will address that will enhance the student-athlete experience and reflect the Division 1 program we aspire to be,” said WCU Director of Athletics Alex Gary.
The newly renovated spaces were unveiled Sept. 29, as donors and fans got their first look at the modernized locker rooms, players’ lounges and film room during tours guided by members of the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Nearly 3,000 square-feet of space on the main level of the Ramsey Regional Activity Center has been transformed by the project. Both men’s and women’s locker room renovations feature new lockers complete with charging stations and LED lighting, floor-to-ceiling esthetic finishes including custom flooring, and expanded player’s lounge areas complete with new systems and monitors. The film room includes new stadium-style seating along with audio-visual equipment to support film breakdown and instruction.
The WCU Board of Trustees has approved the naming of five spaces in the Ramsey Center in honor of five major gifts that have helped make the project possible:
* In recognition of gifts and pledges from Waxhaw resident Gaither Keener and spouse Beverly, the men’s basketball suite is now known as the Gaither and Bev Keener Family Men’s Basketball Suite, which includes the men’s basketball locker room and player’s lounge. A political science major at WCU who graduated in 1972, Gaither Keener went on to earn his law degree from Wake Forest University. He retired from Lowe’s home improvement corporation in 2015 after 30 years of service in its legal department.
* In recognition of gifts and pledges from Stephen Couch, the men’s basketball locker room has been named the Stephen Carlton Couch Men’s Basketball Locker Room. Couch, who earned his degree from WCU in industrial technology in 1985, is president of Couch Oil Co. in Durham.
* In recognition of gifts and pledges from Susie Ray, the men’s basketball lounge is now the Robert G. and Susie R. Ray Men’s Basketball Players Lounge. A resident of Cullowhee, Susie Ray retired as director of WCU’s career services in 1996. Her late husband, 1957 WCU graduate Bob Ray, was a former WCU basketball coach and a faculty member in the Department of Health and Physical Education.
* In recognition of gifts and pledges from Mike and Marsha Sullivan, the athletics program’s film room is christened the Mike and Marsha Sullivan Film Room. Mike Sullivan is CEO and president of Gargiulo Farms and spouse Marsha is a retired customer service manager for Lee County Tax Collection Office. They are residents of Florida with a home in Cashiers, and daughter Marissa Sullivan is a 2022 alumna and current WCU graduate student.
* In recognition of gifts and pledges from James Causby and spouse June Causby, the women’s lounge has been named the Jim and June Causby Women’s Basketball Lounge. Both are retired educators, and James Causby is a former executive director of the N.C. Association of School Administrators and the N.C. School Superintendent Association who recently served as interim superintendent of Asheville City Schools. He graduated in 1967 from WCU where he earned his master’s degree in 1969, and she graduated from WCU in 1969.
In addition, two former men’s basketball standouts were recognized for making significant contributions to the project. They are Board of Trustees member Jake Robinson, a 2010 graduate of WCU and president of Champion Credit Union in Canton, and wife Olivia Robinson, also a 2010 WCU graduate; and retired NBA player Kevin Martin, who attended WCU in the early 2000s before becoming the first Catamount to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft.
Donors to the basketball program renovations said they decided to support the facilities improvements out of a desire to help the Catamount athletics program be more successful.
“I know athletics has been through some lean years, but our people are not the problem. We have great people,” said Couch, who also has created the Carlton O. and Margaret W. Couch Scholarship Fund in honor of his parents. “Chancellor Kelli Brown has done a fantastic job focusing on athletics and has brought in top-notch talent to lead our program. It’s all in place at the perfect time — vision, personnel, strategy and giving. Every WCU team, no matter the sport, benefits when alumni, friends and community commit to support this important endeavor.”
Susie Ray’s gifts to the renovations project, which are in addition to a previously established scholarship fund in recognition of her husband’s contributions to WCU, originated with an inquiry from a member of the Catamount Club staff.
“When I considered how much that would please Bob, I made the commitment,” she said. “He would be so happy to know that the dedication of the lounge area in the new dressing rooms would be in his memory.”
Catamount basketball coaches agree that the changes will not only improve the practice and game-day experiences for current players but also will help recruit and retain new student athletes.
Western Carolina University women’s basketball player Audrey Meyers (center) presents a ceremonial game ball to donors Jake Robinson and Olivia Robinson. Donated photo
“A winning culture is not an accident, and it shares a story. It is words used, what is accepted, actions performed and lessons learned. Over the past two years, we have seen numerous aesthetic changes that provide a new ‘feel’ inside and out of the Ramsey Center that are helping tell our story. Investments like this one help change the storyline away from the past to the future and provide a visually telling reminder that a cultural shift is upon us,” said Kiley Hill, women’s basketball head coach.
“We are blessed to have the support of the alumni, donors and administration for the men’s and women’s basketball locker room project,” said Justin Gray, men’s basketball head coach. “The upgrades we have made to these spaces show a commitment to winning by providing our student-athletes with a state-of-the-art space with advanced technology that will give us a real competitive advantage within our league.”
Student-athletes are already making use of the renovated basketball facilities. “As players for Western Carolina, we are extremely grateful for the generosity of the Western Carolina community and family,” said Russell Jones Jr., a guard on the men’s team. “Having a brand new, state-of-the-art locker room will pay huge dividends for the program now and for years to come.”