Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta called the new $19 million basketball facility “something that’s been needed” for his program.
The OSU Athletic Department officially opened the new gym at the Schottenstein Center Tuesday, even though it is not fully complete. Construction on the new facility began after the 2011-2012 season and it was built as an extension to the west side of the Schottenstein Center. It was not all that got a facelift, though, as the old practice courts were also replaced, along with the locker rooms. New shot clocks and bleachers were added as well.
A lounge area is available for players on both the men’s and women’s squads, complete with a kitchen area and pingpong table. Players and coaches also have access to a team film room, where they have the option of sitting at brand-new desks as they study.
Matta said is was “amazing” to see the finished product and thanked OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith and his staff for all that went into the project.
“You gotta give Ohio State, Gene (Smith) and his staff and the people that raised the money and the people that designed it tremendous credit because it’s just a magnificent place,” Matta said. “In terms of the locker rooms, to the training room, to the new weight room, this gymnasium is amazing.”
Initially, the project was going to cost OSU just $13 million, Smith said. After getting input from the coaches regarding what they wished to see be a part of the new facilities, however, the price tag went up.
“It started at $13 (million) and it escalated to $19 (million) once I involved the coaches,” Smith said. “It went up to $19 (million), and it was the right thing to do.”
Smith said the improvements would not have been possible had it not been for a series of external donors, many of whom are former players.
“We’ve been blessed,” Smith said. “Michael Redd stepped up and he helped us in a great way and we’ve had a lot of different donors that stepped up.”
Redd, who played for the Buckeyes as a guard from 1997 to 2000, donated more money than any other donor, giving $500,000 toward the project. Matta said having former players get involved once they leave OSU is something that is a focus for him and his staff.
“I think that is something that, from the outset, we wanted to try to build here is bring back our former players and getting them involved,” Matta said. “For those guys monetarily to contribute — Michael (Redd) has the largest gift ever given by an Ohio State athlete to the university at a half a million dollars.”
Another player who has shown support for OSU is Ohioan and current Miami Heat star forward LeBron James, who has his own locker at the new facility. OSU has worn James’ “L23” logo since 2007, and was the first school to do so. Matta said James is a good person to associate with the school, but if he was to suit up for the Buckeyes this winter, he would have to put the work in just like everyone else.
“I think that he’s going to have to earn his stripes,” Matta joked. “He’s done a lot of things in his time, but I think from a standpoint, we always want to pay our respects to him for what he did for us in ’07 in terms of us being the first LeBron school. Obviously we get tremendous product from him and I know he’s very proud of what he does for us.”
Despite the facility being officially open to the players, Smith said additional funding is still needed to finish the overall project, which is expected to be finished prior to the start of the 2013 season.
“We have to finish off the graphics in the facility,” Smith said. “We’ll probably send off an RFP (request for proposal) to hire a company to help design what it looks like. Then we’ll fundraise the dollars for that to try and finish that off.”
Smith said the new facility “compares very well” to others at top-notch programs across the country, as OSU took some ideas from both Nebraska and Georgia after seeing each respective place.
“We went to Nebraska because they were designing a new facility and Georgia because we heard about the circular locker rooms and we wanted to see what that actually looked like,” Smith said. “We looked at places, but didn’t go overboard. I think one of our principles and philosophies is to do what we need to do, make it exciting but not be ostentatious. And I think we’ve done that here.”
Agreeing that having such first-rate facilities can help with recruiting, Matta said he wants young people to come to OSU for more than just athletics.
“I don’t want a young man to come here because we have a nice practice facility,” Matta said. “I want him to come for the university. I want him to come for hopefully who we are as people.”
Women’s basketball coach Kevin McGuff, who is entering his first season at the helm, agreed with Matta but said having separate gyms for both teams gives them the opportunity to practice whenever they want.
“For us to have the flexibility to practice whenever we want allows us to help them (student-athletes) really strive to be the best they can be in the classroom also,” McGuff said.
Matta said it allows them to not “be as concerned with class schedules.”
“From the standpoint of gym availability and that sort of thing, this just gives us a lot more,” Matta said. “It gives us more of the ability to do what we need to do for our players.”
Matta said the new practice facility is just another reason he is fortunate to be in the situation he is at OSU.
“I consider myself the luckiest person in the world to be here,” Matta said. “It’s my 10th year now, and I’m still blown away at times by what this place stands for and the commitment that they’ve made to us in terms of following through with what they said is very important to me and very important to our players.”