Greg McDermott saw the impact a new practice facility can have on a basketball program.
He was in his final season at Iowa State in 2009 when the school opened its $8 million Sukup Basketball Complex. McDermott sensed that his players brought a different approach to their daily chores on and off the court.
“When the floor is nice, when the lighting is good, when there is a nice place to study, guys are going to want to spend time there,” McDermott said. “It's a place they want to be instead of a place they have to be.
“It's one of the things that help guys reach their potential as students and as athletes.”
McDermott believes that the new practice facility Creighton announced Tuesday — which it plans to build on the east part of campus — can have the same impact on his Bluejays.
The facility, which could be completed as early as next season, will replace the Vinardi Center, a structure built in 1916 that until a few seasons ago was home to the entire Creighton athletic department.
Many of the programs have migrated east. Men's basketball remained Vinardi's primary tenant, but other programs continued to practice there. The building also is home to student-athlete academic services, a weight room and training facility.
Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen said the new building will feature expanded facilities for academic services, weight training and sports medicine. The 35,000 square foot facility also will have two full-sized basketball courts, locker rooms and offices for coaches and athletic department staff.
Rasmussen said the new facility will move Creighton from near the bottom of the Missouri Valley in terms of a basketball practice facility to near the top. But he emphasized that it is not being built merely to keep up with other schools.
“We need this building regardless of what our competition is doing,” Rasmussen said. “Our goal as a department is to recruit, retain, develop and graduate our student-athletes. This will help us meet that goal.
“It also is important for the master plan of the university. It will allow us to repurpose the Vinardi Center for academic needs. That wouldn't be possible if we were not vacating the facility.”
The university is studying a variety of options for Vinardi's future use. The new facility will be funded by donations from supporters that, Rasmussen said, have pledged money to help renovate Vinardi.
The master plan unveiled a decade ago called for the relocation of Creighton's athletic facilities to the east side of campus. The school constructed a state-of-the art soccer stadium in 2004 and opened the Ryan Center, which includes 2,500-seat Sokol Arena, in 2009.
“At one time, we had intended to move all of athletics at once,” Rasmussen said. “When we had the change in the economy back in 2008 or so, we had to change that plan to move in stages. The new structure will be the final stage of that move.”
The new practice facility will be built either north of the Ryan Center or to its south. A new campus recreation center, located to the east of the Ryan Center, will open next month.
Rasmussen declined to estimate a final cost for the practice facility project, which still must be approved by the school's board of directors. He expects the bid process to begin shortly.
McDermott said he is excited about the impact the new building could have on recruiting.
“It will be a huge plus for us,” he said. “In the recruiting process, facilities have become very important to parents and prospective student-athletes. It's where you train, it's where to go if you get hurt, it's where you study.
“We never tried to hide what we have here (at the Vinardi). It has served us well, but we have outgrown the facility.”
Academic services operate out of a couple of converted classrooms, McDermott said.
“There is not much natural light in there, and it's not what I would call a happy place to go study,” McDermott said. “Our weight room is small. So is the training room. The people who work in those areas do one heck of a job of making sure our athletes have a good experience in spite of the limitations.
“We still practice on the original gym floor. We've stripped it down and refinished it so many times that we're close to the point of playing on concrete. That's hardly healthy for our student-athletes.”
Rasmussen stressed that the new facility will feature functionality over excess.
“The new building is not going to be a Taj Mahal,” he said, “but I also don't envision it being a cinder-block structure.”
That's fine with McDermott.
“I feel the decision here is being made for all the right reasons,” he said. “This is a necessary move if we want to live up to our every-day goal of creating an environment that our student-athletes can achieve at the highest level.”
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