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A solution to McKale overcrowding: Hoops practice facility taking shape

File Photo/ Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona head coach Lute Olson advises junior guard Hassan Adams during last season's win over UAB in Boise, Idaho. If the proper funding can be acquired, the Wildcats could be practicing in an on-campus facility in the near future. 'It's going to make it a lot better for all of us,' said Olson about the proposed facility.
By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
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A new on-campus basketball practice facility is closer to becoming a reality, said Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood in a press conference yesterday in McKale Center.

The facility, which is still pending approval by the Arizona Board of Regents this winter, will be built north of the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center and the Mary Roby Gymnastics practice facility along North Campbell Avenue.

About $6 million to $9 million will be set aside for the gymnasium, Livengood said. The project will be privately funded, and construction will not begin until all the money is raised.

Arizona men's basketball head coach Lute Olson has chipped in $250,000 to go along with a $1 million donation from Coleman and Jeannie Davis to increase the project's funds to $6.2 million of the needed $15 million.

"Lute and (Olson's wife) Christine were kind enough to jump in at the very beginning, months ago," Livengood said. "It allowed us to get off the ground and move forward, and we're so appreciative."

The Davises, who moved to Tucson a few years ago after establishing a recreational-vehicle business in Indiana, wrote in a statement that they were moved to contribute after the death of Arizona women's basketball player Shawntinice Polk on Sept. 26.

They decided to honor her by making a financial donation to the proposed facility and putting her name on one of its two basketball courts.

"We felt Shawntinice was the embodiment of what the University of Arizona can do for a person - for a student-athlete - and felt it was important for us to recognize that relationship," the Davises wrote.

"A family that had never participated before was so touched by Shawntinice Polk that they came forward and did this in her memory," Christine Olson said.

"It just shows you the generosity of people, and it shows you what it means when people think beyond what most of us tend to think about," Livengood said.

The construction has been tentatively set to begin in May with a projected completion date of 2007, Livengood said.

The gymnasium will have two full-sized basketball courts, doubling the space available in McKale. Athletes will still use the existing locker rooms in McKale and will enter the new facility through a tunnel.

Lute Olson said the men's basketball team would still occasionally practice in McKale to ensure a home feeling for the players. Because the new facility would be so close, he said, there would be little adjustment for the athletes.

"We've felt for years that something needs to be done in regards to a practice facility," he said. "With the scheduling right now for the times on McKale Court, with volleyball, men's and women's basketball, with gymnastics meets, and other things that come up here, it's gotten to be a difficult thing."

The Arizona volleyball team, along with other athletic teams, will be able to use the practice facility for its workouts, but plans of now do not include using the facility for games.

"It's going to make it a lot better for all of us," Olson said.

The project will involve about seven separate projects, Livengood said, including completely renovating the aquatic center, the gymnastics practice facility, the softball and baseball stadiums, and the track and field stadium.

While less than half of the needed money has officially been raised, Livengood said that the athletic department already has received some "substantial gifts" that have not been announced because the gifts have not been finalized.

The Bear Down Gym along the mall, in which both basketball teams occasionally practice, will not lose its function, Olson said. He added that it has been tough to teach in the building because of the difficult acoustics, making it hard to communicate instructions to players.

"We are still in the process to see if there are some things that we can do with Bear Down," Livengood said. "The idea is not to see how many different facilities we can build. It's primarily to make sure that we give our student-athletes and coaches the best chance to practice and compete and play that they possibly can."

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