It seems appropriate that a building that took so much time to get started and was debated with such acrimony had its groundbreaking Saturday morning with ice and snow on the ground and with a frigid temperature of 17.
Arkansas' new $25 million Basketball Performance Center did indeed get started Saturday with Razorback head coach Mike Anderson, Lady Razorback head coach Tom Collen, Vice Chancellor and Athletic Director Jeff Long and Chancellor David Gearhart putting shovels to the ground in ceremonial fashion.
"Some people said they were sure hell would freeze over before we got this facility," Long said. "Well, we're going to get this facility."
When it opens in the summer of 2015, Arkansas will become the last of the 14 SEC schools to have such a facility – something that was not missed by supporters of getting the facility done.
"No longer will our coaches have to answer the question: If you're so committed to basketball, why don't you have what everybody else has with a basketball practice facility?," Long said. "Our coaches will be armed with everything they need to go our and recruit the young men and women that we need.
"(It) helps us continue to emphasize our mission to help our student-ahletes become the best the best athlete they can be, and the best student they can be, and develop into the best person they can be," Long added.
Long has certainly had to answer for not getting the facility moving quicker.
"You don't want to complain about what you don't have, but the reality is, it is something we don't have," Long said. "When young people come to a campus and our competitors are talking about our commitment, where's Arkansas' commitment, they don't have a basketball practice facility, it has an impact on young people.
"This is a sign of our commitment," Long added. "Obviously, we are one of those programs in the country that I firmly believe can be highly successful in football and basketball, and we're going to do that, and this is a great show of commitment that we have to that."
The propposed 66,000-square foot facility will house two identical practice courts of 12,280 square feet, locker rooms, a 14,000 square foot weight room, a 3,000 square foot training room, a 1,050 square foot equipment room, coaches and staff offices and a player lounge.
The price tag of $25 million – and the fact that Arkansas has Bud Walton Arena - was something that detractors pointed to in arguing against the facility.
But Long said it was about keeping up both academically and athletically.
"I'm really excited," Long said. "It's been a process that we started talking about almost five years ago, because we have some incredible facilities … We're known for our facilities here, and there were just a few pieces of the puzzle not in existence, and this was one of them. I'm very excited to break ground and get it started and have it come to fruition, because it will only strengthen our commitment here at the University of Arkansas.
"It's not just about athletic competitiveness, it's about academic competitiveness," I felt like we needed to get stronger in our graduation rates and our gpas … We've had student-athletes who couldn't take certain classes because of the conflict with practice times because we only and one court. That happened with both men and women … This will eliminate that … Our coaches can now practice at the exact same time, if need be. More flexibility in schedule."
It will also allow Bud Walton Arena to be used for more than just games and the Wal-Mart stockholders meetings.
"Opening up Bud Walton Arena to the University community, allowing us to do concerts, to do a lecture series," Long said.
It obviously has both Anderson – who called it a "dream come true" - and Collen giddy.
"Jeff gets it," Anderson said. " In order to compete at the highest level, we need this. …. When I sat down with him and made the decision to come to the University of Arkansas, it was about competing at the highest level. In order to do that, you've got to have facilities. No question about it."
Collen noted that his players would be able to graduate quicker now because it can practice at any time now instead of being locked into a time.
"This is to enhance the student-athlete's experience," Collen said. "… I want to thank Mike, he's been a great partner on our scheduling … That's a big challenge, and having a great partner like Mike Anderson has made that a lot easier for me."
Anderson and Long talked about the need for a practice facility when he decided to make the move from Missouri three years ago.
"This is something Jeff and I talked about as I made the decision to come here," Anderson said. " I think it's going to be impactful for our program, for our men's and women's programs. For the university. We feel like we have one of the best arenas to play in, and now to have the convenience of having a practice facility that can make the timing so efficient for our student-athletes.
"To me, that's what it's all about, for those student-athlete that want to get better," Anderson added. "… It's great to see it take place. We've talked about it, had displays about it. And so now the actual start of it is exciting."
It will come at a cost of $25 million or less and Arkansas is certainly seeking someone to pay for the naming rights to the center.
"It will not exceed $25 million," Long said. " Hopefully, it will be less.
"...This is certainly a signature facility on our campus," Long added. "Certainly we would love for someone who believed in our program and felt strongly enough to make a strong enough commitment to have a name on a facility, we would certainly welcome that."
Chancellor David Gearhart, Lady Razorback head coach Tom Collen, Razorback head coach Mike Anderson and AD Jeff Long break ground on the new Basketball Performance Center.
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