Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun reporters Taylor Bern and Ray Brewer break down the UNLV basketball team's 101-78 victory against TCU and look ahead to the Rebels' big home game Saturday against New Mexico.
The UNLV basketball team is reaching a new level, and it has nothing to do with its 17-3 start to the season and No. 14 national ranking.
The grand opening of the $11.7 million Mendenhall Center, the program's new state-of-the-art facility, is this afternoon, A public open house is scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 28.
The team awaits final inspections before settling in to its new digs, but coach Dave Rice said the building is already paying dividends on the recruiting trail. The facility was completely funded by donors.
“We’re so grateful to the generous donors who made it possible,” Rice said. “It makes a huge difference in recruiting, certainly a lot of the guys we’ve signed, that was a big factor in their signing.”
Mendenhall is attached to the south side of the Cox Pavilion, next to the Thomas & Mack Center. It’s a one-stop basketball shop and the first place recruits will visit when they’re on campus. That’s exactly what then-UNLV coach Lon Kruger had in mind when he started the process of securing funding and helping design the facility.
“When recruits come to campus, that facility is maybe as important as the playing arena itself, because players spend so much time there,” Kruger said from his office at Oklahoma. “Anytime players are on campus and not in class, they’ll spend their time there. They’ve got computers, courts available to shoot at any time, weight room; hugely important from a day-to-day standpoint but also very important in the recruiting process.”
UNLV’s facilities are now on par with the best in the country. For a comparison, here’s a look at some area rivals and national powers.
UNLV — The Mendenhall Center
Square feet: 38,000
Opened in: 2012
Cost: $11.7 million
Highlights: Two full-size practice courts, academic resource space, film room, weight and conditioning room
With a swipe of a key card 24 hours a day, Rebels players will have access to two full-size practice courts, a training area, a weight room and study space, among other things.
The three-level structure gives the program the full-service facilities to match their resurgent play on the court this season.
The players have a new place to call home, and the coaches now have first-class facilities to sell to potential recruits. For Rebels fans, this is the latest reason to believe that the glory days are back.
Duke — Michael W. Krzyzewski Center
Square feet: 56,000
Opened in: 2008
Cost: $15.2 million
Highlights: Two full-size practice courts, team and individual video rooms, weight and conditioning room, academic resource space
Around the time the rumors about Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski leaving for the Los Angeles Lakers got louder, the university got serious about getting a new practice facility. The Blue Devils broke ground in 2006 and had their dedication ceremony in spring 2008.
The center is the primary home for both basketball programs, but it also serves as the academic hub for all 26 intercollegiate sports at Duke. The practice courts are near replicas of Coach K Court at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and adjacent hoops give the facility 12 total baskets.
A unique aspect is a legends locker room, where former Duke greats can train while they’re in Durham.
UNR — The Lawlor Events Center
Square feet: 201,400
Opened in: 1983
Cost: $26 million
Highlights: Home arena for men’s and women’s basketball, several upgrades in the 28 years since it opened
The Wolf Pack practice primarily on their home court at the Lawlor Events Center,, with conflicts sending them to the volleyball team’s Virginia Street Gym, formerly known as the Old Gym. Upgrades at Lawlor through the years have included a digital scoreboard, new playing surface and general building upkeep.
There has been talk through the years of adding a basketball facility. In 2007, the Nevada Board of Regents extended coach Mark Fox’s contract through the 2013-14 season.
“We also talked about providing more academic support for our student-athletes and the possibility of building a practice facility,” Athletic Director Cary Groth said at the time.
The Marguerite Wattis Petersen Academic Center was opened in 2008, but Fox left in 2009, and there are no current plans for a basketball facility.
Illinois — Richard T. Ubben Basketball Complex
Square feet: 40,000
Opened in: 1998
Cost: $5.5 million
Highlights: Players’ lounge, academic resource space, men’s and women’s practice courts, strength and conditioning space
When then-UNLV coach Lon Kruger met with fundraisers about what he thought the program needed in a practice facility, this is what he had in mind. The Ubben Basketball Complex opened in the middle of Kruger’s four-year stay at Illinois and is still regarded as one of the best in the country.
Ubben, which houses both basketball programs, is connected via a tunnel to Assembly Hall, the Illini home gym. From the practice gym to the study space to the lounge, there isn’t much need for Illinois’ basketball players to leave Ubben except for class.
ASU — The Weatherup Center
Square feet: 49,000
Opened in: 2009
Cost: $22 million
Highlights: Two full-size practice courts, team video room, coaches offices, academic resource space
The court logos needed an update after realignment changed the conference name to Pac-12, but everything is at the Weatherup Center is up to date. And that includes its sustainability.
In October, the facility received the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Gold Certification. Nearly 50 percent of the building is powered by green power, thanks mostly to a photovoltaic (solar power) system on the roof. Other green features include staggered masonry planes that allow indirect natural light onto the practice courts and wood elements (courts, doors, etc.) from managed forests.
The facility, which houses both basketball programs, features locker rooms, strength and training space and study areas.
Louisville — The Yum! Center
Square feet: 86,500
Opened in: 2007
Cost: $15.2 million
Highlights: Two full-size practice courts, treatment and rehabilitation areas, weight and cardio spaces, news conference areas
Not to be confused with the KFC Yum! Center — the Cardinals’ home arena since 2010 — the Yum! Center is the training facility for men’s basketball, women’s volleyball and women’s lacrosse. In addition to practice and training areas for all three sports, it also houses their administration offices.
The first floor is primarily for student-athletes, and administrative areas are clustered around the second floor with views down to the practice courts.
SDSU — Viejas Arena
Square feet: 154,000
Opened in: 1997
Cost: $29 million
Highlights: Home arena for men’s and women’s basketball, upgrades include a $1.2 million scoreboard
During the Aztecs’ memorable 2011 season, Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union Tribune wrote a story about four disadvantages the program faces in sustaining that success. Here’s an excerpt:
“They practice at Viejas Arena when there isn’t a concert or other event there. Then they’re shipped off to Peterson Gym or, as a last resort, the student rec center with its short courts and din from adjacent pickup games.
Peterson Gym turns 50 next year and is so cold in winter months that players wear long sleeves and running tights. It’s an echo chamber, so much that it’s difficult to clearly hear a coach talking more than a few feet away. The floor is sometimes too slippery to safely use.
A new basketball practice facility has been broached under various athletic department administrations but was bumped down the list of priorities as the state budget crisis worsened. There are no active plans to build one.”