San Diego Union Tribune – November 11, 2013 – By Mark Zeigler –
San Diego State will formally unveil plans Tuesday for a $14.5 million basketball practice facility, a two-level, 23,500-square-foot building next to the athletic department that will have two regulation basketball courts, eight baskets, locker rooms, separate team lounges, a film room and a sports medicine room.
The hope is to get design approval from California State University in January, finish fundraising in the spring, break ground in May and ribbon cut in July 2015.
Its benefits, though, are already being felt. The men’s basketball recruiting class for 2014 is currently ranked ninth nationally by ESPN.
As recruits visited campus this year, Coach Steve Fisher was able to roll out blueprints of the practice facility and then walk out of the athletic department to the grass pad behind the alumni center.
“We’ve shown them, here’s where we plan to put the facility,” Fisher said. “It’s been an important part (of recruiting). We’ve said, ‘Our goal is by the end of your freshman year, it will not be on a piece of paper. It will be here, and it will be here for you to utilize.’”
The men’s and women’s teams currently practice in Viejas Arena, when, that is, it is not being used for concerts or other events. Then they go to 53-year-old Peterson Gym or, if that’s booked, to a court at the student recreation center with the din of pickup games drowning out Fisher and his coaching staff. Even Viejas Arena isn’t ideal, since on some days there have only two baskets available and never more than four.
A practice facility solves that. It allows players to 24/7 access via a swipe card to do individual work. It also can be used for summer camps, commencement events and functions too big for the adjacent alumni center to accommodate.
And, of course, it’s a major recruiting tool.
“It’s the one piece we need to say, ‘Come and walk through our facilities, and we have everything anybody in America has,’” Fisher said. “In today’s world, everybody has a (practice) facility.”
Fisher has been asking for one since, oh, his second year on campus in 2000.
“We started on this when I walked in the door,” said Athletic Director Jim Sterk, who came to SDSU from Washington State in 2010. “I know Steve has been wanting one for close to 15 years. He talked about it in my first meeting with him.”
Dozens of Division I programs already have them, dozens more are building them. Kentucky’s Craft Center opened in 2007 and cost $30 million. UConn is in the final phase of fundraising for a practice facility that, when completed, is estimated to cost close to $40 million. West Virginia’s cost $23.6 million.
Ohio State’s opened in early September. Three weeks later, East Carolina opened the Williams-Smith Center; it cost $17 million.
New Mexico has had a dedicated practice facility adjacent to The Pit since 2005. UNLV opened the Mendenhall Center in the Thomas & Mack parking lot in January 2012. New Mountain West member Utah State announced plans for a new practice facility in May.
“Obviously it has to be nice and it will be nice,” Sterk said. “But it’s not anything that will be crazy, and I don’t think you necessarily have to have that. You want a place where players can work hard and get better, and I think we focused on that.”
Added Fisher: “It’s something that will be appropriate. It will not be over the top by any means, but it’s something where we’ll all say, ‘It’s functional for a whole host of things.’”
Some more details:
-The project will be entirely funded with private money, and not student fees or tax dollars. Sterk said they have $8.1 million in commitments, $6.1 million from 24 donors and $2 million from athletic department revenue. Naming rights have not yet been sold.
-Tuesday’s announcement begins a public fundraising phase, with a target of obtaining the remaining $6.4 million before ground-breaking in May. Starting with Thursday’s game against No. 6 Arizona, a video about the project will be shown and donations of all sizes solicited.
-The facilities site sits between the back of the alumni center, the Sports Deck, the football practice field and the athletic department. Because the athletic department is next door, there is no need to include a weight room or coaches’ offices, reducing costs.
-Financing for a feasibility study came from Ron Fowler’s $5 million gift to the athletic department in 2010. A $1 million pledge from Jeff Jacobs allowed Sterk and SDSU president Elliot Hirshman, who has been actively involved in the project, to proceed with the “quiet” fundraising phase over the past year.
-JCJ Architecture designed the facility, and Hunt Construction Group will build it. Sterk also said SDSU retained JMI Sports, a company co-founded by former Padres owner John Moores, as a consultant.
-The original site considered was in the lower parking lot behind Viejas Arena, but it required cutting into the hillside below the student rec center and became cost prohibitive. Said Sterk: “I had bad dreams of the rec center coming down onto the practice facility.”