Before Friday, Minnesota men's basketball coach Richard Pitino would take pictures of the proposed Athletes Village -- and hey, maybe a couple of stories -- around on recruiting trips to show prospects.
After the Gophers' athletic department broke ground before a throng of staff members, coaches, supporters and student athletes, the symbolic beginning of the project's construction, Pitino said he now has a more tangible tool to show recruits.
"We have pictures that we [have shown in the past] and we kind of invent some of the things that are going to be in it a little bit," Pitino said with a chuckle.
"Now that it’s here I think we can really sell it, I think, in recruiting, you start showing shovels in the ground, you start showing cranes and bulldozers and things and kind of start dreaming about what it’s going to become."
Pitino said he'd never heard a recruit call the current facilities a deal-breaker, but he attributes that, in part, to the renovations Minnesota has made in recent years to Bierman Athletic Building -- turning a shared court there into a practice facility, essentially -- and updates to Williams Arena.
"One of the reasons why I did what I did with Bierman is because it wasn’t enough," he said. "And we’ve got a really good weight room right now, we’ve got a really good gym, it does look nice and we redid a lot of things at the Barn. This only adds to it and when we start getting some concrete stuff, that’s when we really start showing it off.
"I love Williams. Williams has got charm. Now, we redid our locker room, put a barber shop in there, redid the players lounge—you have to do those things to keep up with it. But the inner bowl of Williams, it’s like Wrigley Field, it’s like Fenway Park, there isn’t a whole lot I’d change about it. I think [the players] love playing in Williams."
Of course the new facilities, which are expected to be completed in 2018, will add to the pitches at Pitino's disposal.
"I think it’s going to greatly impact our program," he said. "And I think recruiting is going well, but it’s just another thing to add onto what I think is a really special place."
On football coach Jerry Kill's abrupt retirement on Wednesday:
I saw it pop up on the news. I was watching the news in the morning and it said ‘breaking news out of the University of Minnesota.’ I was like ‘Oh geez, what’s happening.’
To see that, I think the biggest thing more than anything is that I’m happy he’s going to get himself healthy. I know Rebecca, I texted with her last night just letting him know that we’re supporting him, getting him healthy. He’s only 54 years old. He’s really really talented in a lot of different things. So hopefully he gets healthy and I know he’ll have a long, successful career in whatever he has to do next.