Thursday, March 4, 2010 | 2:10 a.m.
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."