The 2019 NCAA men’s basketball national championship trophy has already arrived in the Twin Cities.
It sits behind the glass of a locked display case four stories up in the north tower of the U.S. Bank Plaza building in downtown Minneapolis where the 2019 NCAA Final Four Minneapolis Local Organizing Committee headquarters.
The trophy, though a replica of the one that will be handed out at U.S. Bank Stadium in April 2019, is the signature piece of décor in the swanky office space where dozens of supporters and media gathered Tuesday to officially “tip off” the 28-month planning period leading up to one of the biggest events in sports.
The headquarters entryway is laid with the same floor the Final Four court will be built with. A backboard and hoop anchor the wall behind the receptionist’s desk. Final Four branding is plastered on the walls and TVs throughout the space. The conference room's wall is a piece of artwork, signed by local officials, business leaders and sports figures.
“This space is where the planning will occur,” said Kate Mortenson, president and CEO of the 2019 Final Four Minneapolis Local Organizing Committee. “We’ll eventually have a core team of about five people, but a much-larger extended team. … So this space will be animated for the next 28 months."
Mortenson added in a statement “Our office buildout project really demonstrates our excitement to have one of the biggest events in sports back in Minneapolis. We want our NCAA partners to know that ‘winning happens here.’ Our community will put on a great event, be highly inclusive and also have a positive impact on our youth, who are uniquely inspired by the student-athletes who make it to the Final Four.”
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, NCAA managing director of men’s basketball championships JoAn Scott, Gophers senior associate athletics director Tom McGinnis, and Lynx star guard and Gophers alum Lindsay Whalen were also involved in Tuesday's celebration.
The Final Four MLOC will spend the next two-plus years working closely with the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, Meet Minneapolis, Sports Minneapolis and the City of Minneapolis. The space will also be a hub for NCAA officials and committee members, vendors, partners and volunteers.
The MLOC showed off the space, built by donations from local businesses and vendors, to community and sports leaders last week and asked them to break in the space with “chalk talk.”
Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle wrote on the conference room wall “We’re so proud to be hosting the Final Four!”
University president Eric Kaler sketched the Minnesota “M” and wrote “Go Gophers! We hope to see you then.”
Men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino wrote “Let’s do GREAT things together! Go Gophers!”
Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau wrote “Final Four will be a huge success and showcase MN! Go Wolves!”
Whalen signed the wall Tuesday after ceremonially handing off an NCAA game ball to officially launch the planning effort.
“They put a lot of effort and thought into it. This is a sweep spot,” said Whalen, who was part of the bid committee. “I think when you put something like [the Final Four] together you realize how much planning and how much it takes to put together and right now it’s exciting because it’s the middle of the basketball season and there are so many games being played right now. … It’s a couple years away, but it’s only a couple years away, too. Time goes fast and it’s really cool we have so many great events coming to Minneapolis and Minnesota.”
McGinnis will lead the Gophers involvement in planning for the 2019 event.
“While this [event] is symbolic, we’re really starting to dig our heels in and saying ‘alright, who do we need?” McGinnis said. “If you work in college athletics, the opportunity to work with a Final Four is one of the most premier events in collegiate athletics. So, I think we have a lot of staff that are just excited to help.”
Members of the planning team will visit Phoenix in April for the 2017 Final Four to observe and learn from another host city.
Scott praised the MLOC Tuesday for being ahead of schedule. She also raved about U.S. Bank Stadium and the community’s commitment to invest in big sporting events.
“I’m a big planner, years out, so I’ve wanted to get this far ahead. Not all local organizing committees have their folks in place this far out,” Scott said. “To see this, gets me really excited for the future that we can create a new blueprint because of the way their setting up the infrastructure.
“I think it will be great. … Two short years. … This time goes by faster than you think.”