U's facilities quest still in its infancy

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 4, 2013 - 10:21 PM

But there's increased optimism after years of stagnancy on the front.

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Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith has waxed poetic on the university's need for a practice facility so many times that he is hesitant to even speak on the subject anymore, for fear of the perception of "making excuses" for past failures.

There has been so much talk -- ever since Smith's arrival in 2007 -- and so little action to match it, that the possibility has become a running joke for fans and, occasionally, players.

Yet within the program the impetus remains, and with new athletic director Norwood Teague pronouncing a basketball facility one of his main fundraising focuses, there is a renewed air of hope with the Gophers that this time, there might be some muscle behind the mouth -- even if that hope is slightly muted from past inaction.

"[Teague is] not going to do it, he's going to be the spearhead like everyone else," Smith said when asked about a practice facility. "You've got to push the right buttons and pull the right purse strings to get it done. But it's in the works, and I like that Norwood and his staff made it a priority, so I'm optimistic that it will get done."

The road to any major building project, however, is not a quick or easy one, and the athletic department -- as Teague is quick to point out -- does not work in a vacuum.

A long ways out

Teague got to work on that eventual goal almost immediately after assuming his new job in June, but as of now the blueprints are still in hypothetical form. The university hired Populous -- a master planning firm known worldwide for its sports venue designs -- to conduct interviews with university staff members and others impacted by the potential major changes for a full facilities plan. That plan would include a basketball practice facility, a new football building, a women's gymnastics facility, a wrestling facility, office enhancements and a center for student-athlete academics and dining.

Teague hopes to house the new basketball practice facility as part of an expanded Bierman Athletic Complex to help condense all of the training areas at the university, though he hasn't yet said where, specifically, a new building could go. An area adjacent to the existing indoor complex currently houses football practice fields as well as an outdoor track and field facility that is in need of repair. The university hopes to reveal the full specifics of that model in the coming months.

Glancing around major conference programs in college basketball, the Gophers are in the minority without a practice facility. In the Big Ten, only they and Northwestern are without one, and as the trend across the nation is to go bigger, glitzier and more luxurious to woo materialistic teenagers, the battle for recruits doesn't get any easier.

Sharing a gym is tough

The men's basketball team shares Williams Arena with multiple programs, including women's basketball, cheerleading, dance, volleyball and a host of other camps and events during the summer.

"They share a facility with the volleyball team and women's basketball? That's high school," CBS Sports recruiting expert Jeff Borzello said. "If I was an out-of-state kid and I was going to go somewhere for four years, going somewhere where I would have to share facilities with volleyball, with women's basketball, that would turn me off."

Players aren't always able to use their own arena to go shoot in their free time -- something taken for granted by student-athletes in many other programs.

"People on the outside might not think it's a big deal, but here at the U, it's a really big deal," Gophers guard Joe Coleman said. "There's a lot of times in the summer that we can't even get in our own gym. It's just really hectic because it gets so busy in here. And even if you want to go to Bierman, which people think we can go to -- that's football in there in the summertime, so it's pretty tough."

Tough enough that if it hadn't been his home-state school, Coleman might have reconsidered signing with Minnesota, he said. The Hopkins High School alum remembers visiting Iowa State, another school that offered him a scholarship, and being impressed by the facilities available to Cyclones players. Now at Minnesota, he figures he will have better luck elsewhere.

"I kind of gave up trying to work out here in the summertime, so I would go over to Life Time [Fitness] with my brother and just work out there," Coleman said. "You might end up getting here, see the gym is open and then 20 minutes later, you're getting kicked off. ... Personally being from here, I figured I could somehow get a gym, but outside guys, it might be a big deal for them."

While nothing is set in stone, Teague has been vocal about the necessity of change -- particularly with adding a basketball practice facility.

"In our case, as I've said before, it's just a real need," Teague said. "Many things are wants -- that's a need for us. That's something we have to have for a number of different reasons."

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