BATON ROUGE – The LSU men's and women's basketball teams had plenty to celebrate late Thursday afternoon as the ceremonial ribbon was cut outside the front doors of a $13.3 million practice facility that is attached to the north side of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
With several present and past members of the LSU basketball families looking on, Vice-Chancellor and Director of Athletics Joe Alleva was joined by Chancellor Dr. Michael Martin, LSU systems President Dr. Joseph Lombardi, head basketball coaches Van Chancellor and Trent Johnson, contractor Guy Hopkins, architect Tom Holden and Board of Supervisor member Laura Leach in cutting the ribbon that opened the facility.
It was hard to find much not to like about the new facility from those that will use it on a daily basis to those who wish they were still playing for the Tigers.
"It has been challenging times at LSU as you all know, and during challenging times it is nice to pause and celebrate some good news, and this is one of those days of celebration," said Dr. Martin. "We are building facilities that will benefit us for many years to come. It will benefit great student-athletes, it will benefit great coaches, it will engage great fans and keep this institution the type of institution that we know it has become and know it will continue to be."
Calling it an "extraordinary place," Dr. Lombardi said, "To bring in talent, whether it is athletic talent or academic talent, you have to provide the support and you have to provide first class space, first class instruction and first class opportunities to develop the talent that agrees to come and participate in your program."
Both the men's and women's team benefit with beautiful separate full-sized practice gymnasiums. Each has two portable goals and four overhead retractable goals, both are exact replicas of the PMAC competition court. Each gym features a scoreboard, video filming balcony and scorer's table with video and data connection. Each gyms spans 11,324 square feet and includes a regulation NCAA court in length with two regulation high school courts in the opposition direction.
"I think it is a great day for all of LSU basketball," said women's head coach Chancellor. "I am honored to be here to speak for (late Hall of Fame Coach) Sue Gunter, and all the former players that played here that made this dream possible. Coach (Dale) Brown, I can remember when you came to LSU to try and draw an interest. I know this a great day for you as you think about the program you built here for men's basketball."
Besides the men's gymnasium, the area will become the primary work area for the basketball team with a new locker room, team lounge, training room, laundry facility, coach's locker room and storage areas.
"What it means, it gives us a chance to compete at the highest level," said Tiger coach Johnson. "Also, what it means for me is that the guys I am fortunate enough to coach do not have a sense of entitlement because they are not responsible for this being built. They are responsible for having pride in this building and making sure that former players, coaches and managers alike who were responsible for this being built, that they want to come out and watch them play."
The former players on hand, both Tigers and Lady Tigers were amazed. People like All-American and 1981 SEC Player of the Year Durand "Rudy" Macklin, who walked into the practice gym and just stood for minutes in disbelief at the new facility and continued to be amazed as he saw more and more of the men's dressing room and training facility.
"It's important for the program itself and it will give us a recruiting edge," said Macklin, a member of the 16-player All-Century team selected in 2009. "It will make a player want to come here. It's a basketball player's dream. I just can't wait for the season to start and Coach Trent Johnson, it makes his life a lot easier recruiting-wise. Hat's off to the University. This is our school. It started with rubber floor and the "Dungeon" … We all practiced down there. Now to see it come to this. I was born too soon."
Tameka Johnson, a member of the 2009 WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury and a former Lady Tiger All-American, sees the advantage of the Lady Tigers now having their own gymnasium.
"When I was here we had to share the facilities with volleyball, men's basketball, and if there was any event in the PMAC we had to share it with them too. This allows you to come in on your own time, practice what you need to practice, change [practice] times when you need to change times and it gives the team something different. They can come in whenever they want. They don't have to go in and practice with anybody. There are enough courts on the side where you can have your own goal and participate whenever you want. I think it's great."
Jordy Hultberg, a former Tiger point guard when the Tigers won their first championship in 1979 and an assistant coach on the 1981 Final Four team, who now works for the LSU Sports Radio Network and Cox Sports TV, has seen a lot of practice facilities in his media travels.
"I have seen all the practice facilities on the NBA level where you have multi-billionaires and I never seen anything like this," he said. "This tops them all. Nothing but first-class. The courts are nothing but pristine. It you don't want to come play here, where are you going to play? I mean it's just a beautiful facility. My hat is off to everyone involved. It's great to be kind of a part of this in a sense that we played here once before and it's a wonderful, wonderful feeling."
The building also includes a central two-story lobby and staircase that ascends to the second level that has a room that can hold approximately 500 people for pre-game and post-game functions that leads into the Maravich Center concourse. The lobby showcases team displays and graphics, trophy cases and memorabilia from the past. The displays and wall graphics were designed by ZE Design of Centerville, Ohio.