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Rebels Basketball:

Mendenhall Center could be a program-changer for UNLV hoops

Funded by outside donations, plans for new men’s basketball home unveiled; Kruger lauds facility’s potential benefits


Steve Marcus

UNLV basketball players Tre’von Willis, center, and Todd Hanni look an artist’s illustration of a new basketball practice facility during a news conference at UNLV Wednesday, March 3, 2010. The center, built with donated funds, will be named after the Mendenhall family who are major donors in the project.

Building for the Future

Funded by outside donations, the UNLV men's basketball program received a boost with the recently announced plans to build the Mendenhall Center, a practice facility.

Mendenhall Center announced

UNLV basketball coach Lon Kruger, center,  thanks Bob Mendenhall, owner and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Paving, and his wife Paula during a news conference announcing a new basketball practice facility at UNLV Wednesday, March 3, 2010. The center, built with donated funds, will be named after the Mendenhall family who are major donors in the project. Launch slideshow »

Mendenhall Center floor plans and renderings

Southeast view of the Mendenhall Center. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

Time for the stretch run ... and a new home

Ryan Greene and Ray Brewer get you set up for UNLV's stretch run to close out the 2009-10 men's basketball season, plus talk about the impact of the new Mendenhall Center, which will serve as the home for the program for years to come.

In front of his players and staff, UNLV administrators, television cameras and several other program supporters Wednesday, Rebels men's basketball coach Lon Kruger opened an envelope that could help take his program to the next level.

The contents were two checks, written out from Las Vegas Paving Corp., for $3.5 million each. That $7 million donation will pay for the majority of the program's new men's basketball practice facility — which in total will cost roughly $11.7 million and will not be funded by a single dollar of state money.

Plans and artist's renderings for the Mendenhall Center — a 38,000-square-foot structure which will be built in front of the Cox Pavilion — were unveiled at a press conference.

According to UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood, ground could break within the next month, and there's a chance the Rebels will be practicing on its two full-size courts and using its amenities by the tail end of the 2010-11 season.

"This is something that does not cost the university any money, yet delivers the university a promise of bringing the Runnin' Rebels to the next level," UNLV president Neal Smatresk said. "And I've got to say that's exciting, because this year, the level is pretty good."

The most significant donation toward the project came from Las Vegas Paving owner and CEO Bob Mendenhall, who presented the checks to Kruger and spoke at the podium for a brief moment. The family also was spoken for by his son, Terry, who is the vice president of Las Vegas Paving.

Also in on the collaborative effort to donate the funds, build the facility and then donate it to UNLV are Maury Gallagher Jr., Bill Paulos, Bill Wortman and Hope Anstett.

Gallagher is the chairman and CEO of Allegiant Travel Company. Paulos and Wortman are both principals in Millenium Gaming, Inc., Millenium Management Group, LLC and Cannery Casino Resorts Capital Corp. Anstett and her late husband, Joe, are founding members of the Runnin' Rebel Basketball Club and members of the Founder's Circle for Black Mountain Institute.

The group formed roughly two years ago and met with Kruger to discuss what the program could most use in terms of a donation.

Kruger drew back to a similar facility his team had at Illinois, which opened during his four-year stretch coaching the Illini, and recalled how much it helped the program across the board.

"These kinds of projects, the hard thing is that sometimes there's great emotion and feeling at the start, and then it wains a little bit, and that's what we couldn't afford to have happen right here," Livengood said. "Too many people have put too much effort into it. We really needed to make sure it was finished.

"I think the recruiting really becomes very important. I think for your current team, the message is sent out. Rebels basketball is important, and we're doing more than just saying it is. We're showing that it is."

Most of the current Rebels, who wrap up the regular season at 1 p.m. Saturday against Wyoming at the Mack, were on hand for the unveiling, taking a look at the renderings and plans after a series of speeches.

The facility will essentially provide a one-stop shop for everything the players will need on campus outside of classrooms.

Aside from the two regulation-sized practice courts, the building will feature locker rooms for both players and coaches, state-of-the-art strength and conditioning equipment, an academics area and a team video room along with other amenities.

Some fringe features include a Hall of Fame at the entrance, plus a mezzanine that overlooks the practice floors and can be used for receptions.

"It'll be something that I think will bring the team more together, because we'll all be there together all the time," said sophomore Todd Hanni.

Added Kruger: "Emotionally, it's absolutely fantastic. We'll have a group of guys that will call this home. They'll take great pride in it, they'll feel good about it, and in turn, our best recruiters are always our players. When they can share with pride what their home is, now, this will have a long-lasting impact on our program, our university and our community for years and years into the future."

The effect the facility will have on the recruiting front could have the most beneficial long-term value.

In the arms race that is big-time collegiate athletics, the Rebels now can potentially be part of that upper echelon. Several programs featuring similar facilities are the same ones which Kruger and his staff regularly recruit against for top talent.

"We're telling (recruits) that it's in discussion, now it's a totally different ball game," Kruger said of the facility. "When a recruit takes visits to different campuses and different places, no program can show them more during their 48 hours on campus than what we will be able to show them now.

"We've got a core now of 15,000, 16,000 people at ball games, so game night is fantastic. We've got a practice facility now that will be the home to players 24 hours a day, seven days a week. No one will have better than that. It will pay dividends in a lot of ways."

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  1. It doesn't look like it will take up too many parking spots. I don't mind walking farther if it means the program will keep improving.

  2. this is fantastic. A bright day in Rebel Basketball! since it could be open by the end of next season, maybe it will push Joseph or Polee over the edge, that is if the pitiful crowd at their last visit did not scare them away.

  3. hey ryan is this building going to be exclusive to the basketball program? ... i hope they don't have to share it with the likes of our conference rivals during the conf. tournament - this thing needs to be MEMBERS ONLY

  4. Looks nice!

  5. UNLV basketball no longer has any excuses to be a perennial bubble team. We have everything in place to be a top 20 team on a consistent basis. The only thing that isn't very good is the TV contract. No more being happy with just making the tournament. T&M + Mendenhall Center = elite basketball facilities. There truly aren't many places in any conference that have these types of facilities. This is great!

    Who is paying for the remainder $4.7 mill?

  6. Tito, the only thing which it appears will be shared within the athletic dept. in the new facility is the weight room. Right now, EVERY team in the dept. uses the weight room in the Lied. I'd imagine the women's basketball and volleyball teams, among others, would use it. This much was confirmed at the press conference. As for the practice floor, I'm not sure if other teams will be allowed to practice on it during the conference tourney, but I wouldn't speculate against it. Though with the both courts in the Cox Pavilion still functional, I doubt there will be a need for it. However, the rest of it is, as you say, members only.

  7. letsgorebs, the rest of the $4.7 million is pooled from the other donors named in the story. Again, no state dollars necessary.

  8. Thank you to everyone who made this a reality. In a time when things are sooooo tough on campus with the lack of funding and cutting of jobs, its nice to have something that the university and the valley can look forward to. No matter what, we always have our Rebels and we will always support them. COME OUT SATURDAY AT 1PM FOR THE LAST GAME OF THE SEASON!

  9. Very, very nice. There's no reason now that recruiting can't be improved.

  10. Mendenhall, Paulos, and Wortman who were the original owners of the Cannery casino...Support the Cannery and return the love to them.

  11. Only good things can come from the new facility. Step in the right direction for sure. See you Saturday. Rebs by 30 again seems about right. Hope to see Chop get a standing O for all the crap these fools talk about him.

  12. In true Las Vegas fashion lets build a nicer practice faiclity and cut programs that enable students to earn degrees. Now comes the argument that all of this is donor money. So what. What will be the costs for maintenance and repairs? By the way UNLV still needs the academic programs to attract top teir players rather than the usual gathering of players quality schools do not offer a visit to.

  13. This announcement kind of brings into light how well the current staff has done despite not having one of these facilities while competing in a non-BCS league.

    What has happened the last four years with this program is pretty impressive and should keep getting better. Just think back to the end of the 2005-06 season to today. Amazing changes and it's great to see the program getting built for longterm success.

    This is going to be a fun ride. Ready for Saturday! U-N-L-V!

  14. Homer, talk to your state assembly man about the cuts. They are the ones who screwed us out of funding, not these donors. This is a good thing for the program. Quit being a negative Nancy.

  15. This is great stuff. Pretty cool to hear Kruger say that he thinks it will have an impact on recruiting. Now we've got a coach with an NBA stint on his resume and state of the art practice facilities on their way. Pretty cool considering at the beginning of this season they were practicing at the all american sports park.

  16. Do we have any idea how this will compare with the facilities at other MWC schools? Do they even have practice facilities?

  17. We've come a long way since the days of the university secretly video-taping their own team's practices. It's great to see the president, AD, coach, boosters, and community working together in such a positive manner to improve Runnin' Rebel basketball.


  18. My personal thanks to this long time group of Runnin Rebel Basketball supporters. The one point in the article that makes the most sense is in this time of doom and gloom we have something we can give to the basketball players and their 15,000+ loyal fans. This is hope for the future.

    I would like to remind everyone that the UNLV Foundation announced it surpassed it's goal of raising $537,000,000 in it's capital campaign to improve academics and research, so quit crying about this in comparison to what is a paltry donation to the basketball program.

    At the very least the university will have to consider tuition hikes to make up for the shortfall in academic funding. To those who can't afford it, it is called a student loan. The same damn loan I had to pay for years because I didn't have mommy and daddy to pay for it. Another answer is to raise the bar on admissions, which have always been relatively low. The graduation rate is what 40% for 6 years? That indicates that for the most part we have a lot of students going to school who aren't going to graduate and would probably be a lot better off in the job market than wasting the university's time.

    UNLV is still very affordable compared to many similar size institutions of which many have no research programs and the fact still remains the desire to learn and the breadth of knowledge is still based on the individual rather than the institution.

    The $12,000,000 donated to this state of the art facility is a gift from the heart to this sport and this team. If your worried about academics dip into your pocket and donate instead of crying about what they did with their money.

  19. I wonder if The Mendenhall LasVegas Paving Company Family are related to Bronco Mendenhall B.Y.U football coach

  20. @ cashedoutrebel......and why, exactly, would the fans give Chop a standing O? before you post.

  21. "This is something that does not cost the university any money, yet delivers the university a promise of bringing the Runnin' Rebels to the next level," UNLV president Neal Smatresk said.

    Um, who pays to staff and maintain it? UNLV and the state of Nevada. I agree that this is a great boost for UNLV, but the administration is being very disingenuous in the face of cuts that are eviscerating academic areas. No state dollars are necessary for construction. That's a critical distinction.

    Also, Bob Mendenhall was set to give much of that $7 million gift to the College of Engineering until he was aggressively persuaded otherwise. Several members of the Foundation board, with Smatresk's help, were extremely persistent in their efforts to redirect this support to the practice facility when USC started courting Kruger. How ironic that several engineering departments are now among the "list of 20" up for program review and possible elimination.

    Smatresk hasn't forgotten that he's still running for president (he's only in an interim role right now, after all) and he's been looking for a way to get the athletic community on his side. Looks like he's succeeded.

  22. I think this practice facility will definitely help the Rebels get recruits, which will help them win more. More winning will get more fans in the stands and that means more money for the program. Excited about what this could do for Rebel basketball!

  23. @ muchraker, you sound like part of the engineering college, or foundation then?

    Neal is the president, not "acting/interim" according to that story.

  24. Once it's built taxpayer's will pay for it'supkeep

  25. @muchraker
    While I am glad UNLV got funding for this sports facility I share your concerns.
    They better not eliminate any of the science or engineering programs on that list. They are the most expensive programs to run BUT they bring in grant money and prestige. I think science and engineering are the most important aspects of a university, the problem is those majors are more difficult and have less students because of the difficulty.
    I hope they cut funding to the school of ed. All they need is a bachelors program, most teachers get phony online masters degrees from the University of Phoenix or Kaplan or something anyway.

  26. The Donor Group, which consists of 5 families have also created an endowment fund that will pay for the maint. and upkeep of this new facility. Mr. Mendenhall has previously donated to the Engineering Programs and those are not going anywhere.
    Congrats to the Donor Group and the B-Ball Program. Good luck in the Big Dance.

  27. I think putting it right in front of the Cox Pavilion is goofy. It's going to eat up more parking (don't tell me the parking garage helps - that thing is more of a hassle than it's worth), make students walk further to class, and be right in front of a venue. Couldn't it go somewhere else?!

    But then again, when has the University ever really put anything where it SHOULD be?

  28. Holly Crap. You sound like a bunch of old women complaining about anything that you can! Go home and kick the dog or something (j/k). Some of you are just miserable people and like to b****h about anything and everything. Put it here, donate the money for this program, this is getting messed up because of the building, the parking, ect... what have you ever done to make the university a better place? What solutions are you providing to fix the problems? Its easy to point out faults, its is a hell of a lot harder to come up with solutions let alone get those solution off the ground! These people are putting in THEIR time and money while you ingrates are spending your time on a website complaining and the people who donated the money are out there making things happen to make UNLV a better place! There is no way you can critically spin this and maintain creditability. You people are a joke!

  29. Rofl, thanks for the diatribe.

    You don't need to donate seven million dollars to criticize something.

    And everyone knows it's a great thing for the program. I just think it could be somewhere else. It looks like an afterthought.

  30. Very grateful to the donors, especially in this economy. It sounds like all of them have been around long enough to recognize the impact their collective donations will make.

    While some will talk about academics programs that are needed to recruit "top teir" athletes, I would disagree. And, not because academics and "top teir" are kinda funny in the same sentence. More so that, it surprises me that some don't comprehend the benefit that mostly sold out games (whatever sport) translate to the overall good of our UNLV. If you build it, they will come.

    What was the largest crowd to attend one of our debating teams vs. a MWC rival? How about our swimming team that has won like 6 MWC titles in a row? I am embarrassed to admit that I can't even name anyone off of either squad. But, I would imagine that all programs could benefit by success of our basketball team or football team.

    Does above average results for one or both (marquee) sports not enrich the entire university as a whole? Money well spent for our city, in my opinion.

    Whether it's academics or sports, I love all of my Rebels. I am very proud of their dedication to be great. This cannot be accomplished without $$ and I commend our donors for recognizing where their own, hard earned contributions will provide the most bang for their buck.

  31. Born-N-Raised, you misinterpreted the spirit of my comment. I think it's great that the facility will raise the team's profile and bring more money to the athletic side. What I'm uncomfortable with is the administration portraying this as a "free" facility, and furthermore having the gall to announce it when many on the academic side are in daily meetings to discuss who and what will be axed. We're talking entire departments here. That confer degrees. What will the players study when their favorite majors are cut? I'm not talking engineering, but the interdisciplinary liberal arts degrees that have mid-level GPA requirements and graduate most of the top student athletes. Everything's on the table at this point.

    And Sofaking, regardless of what the Sun says, Neal is on a two-year presidential contract, which for a university is considered interim. He doesn't like to advertise it, but why else does UNLV still have an interim Provost? Neal might eventually need to get his old job back. I've got nothing against the guy; I'm just pointing out that he has more to prove to the community than a president who was hired as the result of a national search and all but assured a four-year contract. He needs you to like him for this.

    Finally, Born-N-Raised, I am an old woman. And I donate money to UNLV. Do you?

  32. Extremely generous donations. Incredible opportunity for UNLV basketball. Enormously gracious.

    That said, it's a shame the academic programs at UNLV are being run into the ground in the meantime. Basketball and other forms of entertainment will not make the University a respected academic institution. Basketball will not recruit exceptional scholars as professors and researchers. Basketball will not attract exceptional students looking for a world class educational experience. No one goes to Stanford, MIT, or Harvard because of their basketball teams. The superficial students that would come to UNLV because of the basketball team's standing in the NCAA are the same ones that would date a homely girl because of her overdone breast augmentation or date a homely man because of a thick wallet.

  33. UNLV is fortunate that there are persons willing to participate in the athletic program. But what's wrong with being gracious and asking the benefactors to consider the current state of the program?

    The money could be better used by being placed in an endowment account and allowing the athletic department to build some surplus for the building. If the facility is built right away, then it will be a white elephant and a burden on the university. It's like giving a gift and forgetting the batteries - the kids are excited until they realize the lights won't turn on.

    This facility will be expensive to run - power, water, sewage, cleaning- and the repair and maintenance costs for not only the building, but the equipment and the personnel will be costly. Neither the university or the athletic department has money to support it anytime in the near future. They have to cut personnel and programs, and their current facilities are in need of help.

    It's difficult for fans and donors to truly understand, because we only see the flash, lights and PR hype. And although we can all pray things will change, it would seem best to be prudent and plan more into the future and not just what immediate needs are. This line of thinking is how they (and the rest of the country) got in the predicament they're in now. The previous administration didn't pay attention and allowed the department to run into the ground - by listening to those looking for the rainbow and saying that spending will "take the program to the next level". Well, the "next level" seems to be the level of repeating mistakes.

    I hope someone will be reasonable and make the right decision. It's not too late to put this event on the right track.

  34. Designs look nice and I don't think it will take that many parking spaces away from the original lot. I hope that the facility is open to the public for a small fee or free so we can take a look at the Hall of Fame for not just basketball, but all sports. I hope to see the entire thing when it is built.
    Blame the legislators for the shortfalls that the education has in Nevada, they cut edumacation yet keep programs that dont mean *enter dirty word here* to the state of Nevada. Fund education and first responders first, let the sharks fight over what's left.

  35. why doesnt unlv get the " boosters or supporters " to use the money to buy better players and less training facilities, larry and stacey didnt need a practice facility. on another note, does the new facility come with underground parking to hide the porche's and mercedes the players are driving now ????

  36. "I wonder if The Mendenhall LasVegas Paving Company Family are related to Bronco Mendenhall B.Y.U football coach"

    Not sure, but the Mendenhall's that made this donation are LDS. I don't think Bob Mendenhall is an active member of the LDS church...but he could be....I do know his son Terry and Terry's family are active LDS.

  37. Do you people realize that Men's basketball is the only sport that actually earns a profit for the university year-in and year-out? The profit that the basketball program makes each year is more than enough to cover any expenses needed to run the facility. For instance, even now when counting the money required to maintain the Thomas and Mack, the basketball program still makes money.

    UNLV basketball creates more revenue each year than it takes to operate. Meaning the university as a whole makes more money for having a basketball program. So don't blame the b-ball program when it is actually bringing in money for the school.

  38. It's funny to see people complain based on the fact that the academic state of UNLV is poor at the moment. They seemingly forget the 5-6 large brand new classroom buildings built in the last 10 years.. Not to mention the brand new student union and the recreation center that were both recently opened. Most of these buildings were built with state money along with aid from millions of dollars in large donations to the University.

    Yet a simple $12 million building funded completely by donations for the ATHLETIC department is causing you to have fits and condemn the donars and administration. It seems to me like some people always need to find the downside to every situation..

    The relatively small overhead to run a building like this is cutting into the academic and research success of the university? Really? Give us all a break.

  39. @ Muck

    I have given my fair share (relative to income, not like Mr. Mendalhall) of money to UNLV.

    To the previous 2 posts, spot on! UNLV basketball revenue funds 5-10 other UNLV athletic programs on it own!

  40. Forget all the nonsense everyone is bringing up here...the key to the success of this building is if CORY JOSEPH IS PRACTICING IN IT THIS FALL!! Nothing else matters!!

  41. Dear "Steven": You are incorrect. The Thomas and Mack maintains itself by being a top entertainment venue (just count the times we have to battle for parking during night classes) and does not receive funding from Athletics.

    And based on the diminished basketball crowds over the past many years, their box office would not have been large enough to maintain athletic expenses/programs. Hopefully, it will turn around, but will take a while to get back to where it can operate all athletic programs on its own. Adding additional operating expenses will not help the situation. They are looking at budget cuts for the next three years. Its not negative, just realistic.

    Dear "UNLV-123": When it comes to athletics, there is no such thing as a "relatively small overhead" especially in a university setting. The more they get, the more they spend before it's gotten.