Major Gifts Allow Practice Gym Work To Begin

The gentleman responsible for the single largest portion of the funding expressed it best. "The Hump is getting a front door," said Buzzy Mize, as Mississippi State held a formal announcement of the Henry Mize Foundation's major gift for construction of the basketball practice gym.

This gift of $4 million, combined with the previously-announced $2 million provided by Richard Adkerson as well as other donations, is allowing Mississippi State to finally get to work on this long-anticipated facility. The final cost is listed at $11.2 million. Athletic director Greg Byrne said the ‘formal' ground-breaking will come sometime this fall, for p.r. event purposes, but that preliminary work will begin as early as Tuesday. In fact an earth-mover is already sitting on the slope in front of Humphrey Coliseum where the gym is to be built.

"And we hope to have a ribbon-cutting 15 months from now," said Byrne, for whom this announcement was another stage in a long process. "Since the first day I stepped into Coach Stansbury's office we've been talking about this," he said. Now the Bulldog basketball coach—and his Lady Bulldog peer Sharon Fanning—can see some pieces coming into places.

"This is a special day for men's and women's basketball," Stansbury said. "Because this is something that we don't just want. We're a school that needs this in a desperate way."

One of Mississippi State's strongest supporters has answered that ‘desperate' need. "We've been working on this for a long time so it's good to be at this point and looking forward to getting this started," said Mize, who oversees the foundation named for his Uncle Henry Mize, a 1938 alumnus of Mississippi State College. The Foundation has already provided notable support to Bulldog basketball in the form of the scoreboard/replay board that has hung in The Hump much of this decade.

Now, they have secured naming rights—pending approval of the IHL—for the practice gym with the largest of the major gifts. "On behalf of the entire Mize family I'd like to thank everyone who has worked on this," Mize said. "It's one that I am happy to have finished, I'm glad to have gone through it. We've done a great deal of due diligence on how to best fund it, what is the best facility to build, and you can be sure every option has been explored."

This required a lengthy process of study and research on the bricks-and-mortar aspects as well as the more pertinent dollars-and-sense aspect. "We've talked to the Mize foundation for three years, working through all the different scenarios," Byrne said, adding that all the funding has been secured. This doesn't mean all the actual cash is in MSU accounts of course. Byrne said there are gifts and pledges for about eight million of the total.

"We also have the gifts from Richard Adkerson and our good friend Richard Rula. This combination of large gifts and gifts from many others is what make this possible, through our Bulldog Club."

Later associate athletic director Scott Stricklin explained some of the fiscal details. Counting the actual funds on hand, the pledges, and earmarked funds from current court-side seat leases over the next ten years, at least $10 million out of $11.2 million is accounted for. Though, for the moment and to get formal IHL board blessing to begin work now, Mississippi State will be taking out a private loan to be paid off over the next several years. Byrne said it would total $6 million.

"All funding is secured," Byrne said. "This doesn't mean we won't stop raising money if somebody wants to donate!"

The point for now is that Mississippi State can start shoveling ground around and get going on a year-and-a-quarter timetable that would have the 2010-11 Bulldogs doing final pre-season prep in a new kennel. University president Dr. Mark Keenum called it "A great day for Bulldog basketball, our men's and women's teams, and we're excited to be here to celebrate this great occasion.

"It's one of the most successful basketball programs in the Southeastern Conference. This facility will greatly enhance an already-wonderful program for our men and women athletes. This type of commitment, loyalty, and support from the Mize Foundation is indicative of the excitement."

The University president also referred to the facility as a future doorway to the university; which the gym literally will serve as for the Hump itself for some folk. Mostly of course the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs who finally have an all-their-own gym. At the same time, even, with two full-sized college courts and a retractable dividing wall…which Stansbury teased will be needed so his players won't be distracted when Fanning is unhappy with Lady Bulldog practice efforts.

The two-story facility will have almost 58,000 square-feet of space and 23,500 of that actual court space, which Stricklin believes would be largest in the SEC. It can also be divided into four high school courts if so needed. Included are a full training room and weight room, offices for both coaching staffs, and 5,000 square-feet of reception space for athletic and University functions. "A lot of places have practice facilities," said Mize. "But what is different is this is also going to contribute to the game-day events, in that it's going to be public. We're excited about what it's going to do." Such as, he suggested, a place for former Bulldogs to return to as their home-away-from home. This is one of many reasons the Mize Foundation has signed-on in the big way, because of the late Henry Mize's attitude about Bulldog athletics.

"This will fit into what Uncle Henry originally wanted," Buzzy Mize said. "Uncle Henry wanted to create a foundation that would enhance and contribute to the quality of life, particularly those Mississippi State fans who have been so dear to him over the years and the student-athletics. And contribute to them in the same manner they enhanced and contributed to his life.

The project's general contractor is JESCO of Tupelo/Fulton (which has had a truck parked outside the Coliseum this month already), with the design the work of Foil Wyatt Architects of Jackson. Projected completion is indeed fifteen months. And perhaps the best part of the project for players and staff alike isn't the gym itself but the 84-space parking garage, a huge problem-solver in the Hump's environs.

"This is so much needed for our basketball," said Fanning, who noted that in the current office setup her staff can't even see each other eye-to-eye. Just having a real staff conference room is a big help for both staffs. The fact is that staff space in the Hump, which opened in 1975, has been overmatched for decades.

"And it says something to a recruit," added Fanning. "It makes a tremendous statement to the commitment we've made to our program."

The effort to reach this point has been tremendous, too, even it most of it was behind-scenes. But it was always near the top of Byrne's to-do list when he took over as athletic director in March 2008. "Mississippi State basketball has been an absolute anchor for this University, and we've had some of our highest moments on this court," he said. "But something we always talk about is we can't rest on our laurels, we have to find ways to make ourselves better. This facility is a key commitment. It will also allow us to grow and take it to another level, to gain exposure for Mississippi State in all the ways that matter."

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