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$24.1 million facility nearly ready for WVU hoops to unwrap

MORGANTOWN - The bow isn't quite ready to be attached, so Bob Huggins won't be able to unwrap it today. Still, there is a $24.1 million Christmas present for him and the West Virginia basketball program sitting right outside the Coliseum.

It's in the form of the school's new practice facility, which seems only a matter of weeks (late January, sometime in February perhaps?) away from being complete and inhabitable.

And wow, what a place it is.

"I was talking to somebody who went to a school where they were building a practice facility,'' Huggins said. "And while he was there they showed some pictures of our practice facility and said, 'Now, ours isn't going to be like this. West Virginia's is the best. It's going to be close, but it ain't going to be like that.'

"What a wonderful thing. What a wonderful thing for us to say, 'We've got the best.' ''

When Huggins and the men's team - along with Mike Carey and the women's team - move into the facility that's just behind the Coliseum, they will indeed be moving into a space that has to rank among the best that have ever been built. Not having seen a lot of practice facilities, I can't make any grand proclamations about where this one ranks, but if Huggins says it's the best, well, who am I to argue?

It's something Huggins has been working on since he returned to his alma mater.

"I got tired of people saying, 'Man, you don't understand. This is West Virginia,' '' Huggins said. "I knew the passion that the people had and how great the people here were and I knew they would support us. And I figured if we were going to do it, do it right.''

It's hard to really explain what all is included in this new building and do it justice, so we won't really even try, beyond explaining that there are full-sized practice courts (and then some), locker rooms, training facilities, coaches offices and absolutely everything a basketball program would need to succeed. And the whole place is like a mirror image, too. What the men's program has on one side of the building, the women's program has on the other.

Really, it is exactly the same in every way; well, save for the urinals in the men's locker room.

The building was designed and constructed for one basic reason above all others.

"When you're scrambling around trying to find a place to practice it's not a good deal,'' Huggins said. "We needed a place to practice.''

It would seem on the surface that the Coliseum is more than an adequate place for a basketball team to practice. Roll back the floor-level bleachers and there's not only the full-sized court in the middle, but two other near-regulation courts beside it.

And if it was just one basketball team, or even two, that was using the space, it would work just fine.

"This building is used for basketball during basketball season, but it's also a phys ed building,'' Huggins said of the Coliseum, which is now in its early 40s. "And it's also volleyball and it's also women's basketball and wrestling and gymnastics and Lady Antebellum [who played a concert there a week ago today] and graduation and everything else. A lot of people don't understand that.''

Of course, things have improved in recent years with the construction of the school's recreation center a few hundred yards down Patteson Drive. There are multiple basketball courts there and it has taken a load off the Coliseum, but it is still a shared facility.

"When I was [a student] here we couldn't play full court in the Coliseum because then it was pretty much the rec center,'' Huggins said. "I wanted a place where our guys could go work on their games. I wanted them to have opportunities that a lot of people who played there didn't have.

"And what I said was if we're going to do this, why not do it right? Why would we want to be like a lot of people and build it and then say, 'Man, I wish I'd have done this' or 'I wish I'd have done that.' ''

Part of the facility is the entranceway that will be open to the public. It's a museum dedicated to WVU basketball, from the scoreboard and backboard taken from Stansbury Hall to the torn uniform worn by Joe Mazzulla when he was the MVP of the East Regional on the way to the 2010 Final Four and everything in between.

"We've never had a place where we can show the greatness and the history of West Virginia basketball,'' said Huggins, whose mid-1970s warm-up is also on display. "Kids growing up don't know who Fritz Williams was. That's a shame. People don't know who Wil Robinson was. That's a shame. So I thought as long as we were doing it we could put a place in there where we can show the history and the greatness of West Virginia basketball.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com.


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