As recruiting settles down from the hectic rush of the fall signing period, the Gophers are looking towards filling the last scholarship for the 2014 class while also building stronger ties for the following year. Richard Pitino, who has been praised for his recruiting relentlessness, will face the same challenges again as he competes for players who are being wooed by college basketball’s traditional powerhouses.
But one thing that would make Pitino’s job a whole lot easier would be the addition of a practice facility. The basketball practice facility has been something that has been talked about for far too long now with no action. When Tubby Smith took the job in 2007, a practice facility was all but promised.
The Gophers and Northwestern are currently the only Big Ten schools without basketball facilities. Players often times don’t have access to Williams Arena and they find themselves competing for court time with other events on campus. Pitino has been creative by making a makeshift basketball practice area at Bierman Athletic Complex, but as nice as it is to keep the players at the center of campus with their own space, this is not a sustainable long-term option for the team.
Blake Hoffarber, the Gophers all-time leading three-point shooter noted his frustration during his time at Minnesota with the lack of a basketball facility. “It was never fun when I walked down to Williams Arena and some dance team was there or volleyball (team) and I couldn’t shoot. You think it wouldn’t take this long for a practice facility. Everyone around the country has one.”
Having a basketball facility would give the Gophers a chance to compete in recruiting with other major programs across the country that already have a practice facility. It would reinforce the Gophers commitment to excellence by showing them they are invested. It would show recruits a commitment to player development by having a facility that is open to them to improve athletically and academically during all hours of the day.
The Gophers took a big step this summer when athletic director Norwood Teague presented his major facilities plan that included and even prioritized the construction of a new practice facility. The new facility would include court space for the men and women’s teams as well as a weight room, offices, and court viewing areas.
As a whole, the athletic facilities upgrades master plan was meant to be implemented between four to six years, however, with the basketball facility being prioritized, the hope was it would gain steam immediately. So where are we in the process today?
“We’re still in the early stages. We aren’t ready to announce any of those yet. But I’m optimistic we’ll get it done. It’s a big target, but I think we can do it,” said University of Minnesota President, Eric Kaler to media at the Minnesota-Penn State football game a few weeks ago.
I think it would be in the program’s best interest to get shovels in the ground as soon as possible. Minneapolis is a city full of Fortune 500 companies that would probably be more than willing to act as a corporate sponsor, not to mention the large booster network that would be more than willing to give a donation for such a facility.
It’s time to turn a corner in college basketball. We have a lot to sell in Minnesota and to settle for anything less than a perennial contender would be a shame. But in order to start on the right track, the administration needs to show they’re committed to the cause, and to do that, Kaler and Teague need to stick a shovel in the ground.