The future of UConn men's and women's basketball got just a little bit brighter last week when the university's Board of Trustees approved the spending of $3 million for the design of a new practice facility.
The basketball-only facility will sit behind Gampel Pavilion on ground that was once the home of Memorial Stadium.
Getting a practice facility built has been one of the biggest long-term concerns for coaches Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma, and is one of the few topics on which they agree 100 percent. Calhoun, in particular, has been exceptionally vocal on this issue for over five years.
"To preserve and enhance the future of our basketball programs, this facility is a must," athletic director Jeff Hathaway said. "I think we've made that point clear to everybody. The challenge is how fast, and that's the part we're working on right now.
This project is critical for the continued success of UConn basketball, and everything it means to the university and the state.
The women's program is on solid ground for many years to come. Coach Auriemma is the undisputed king of women's college basketball, and the recruiting pipeline is not an area of concern for the foreseeable future.
The men's program, on the other hand, is on shakier ground. Coach Calhoun is not getting any younger. He is under contract through the 2013-14 season, but at 68 years old, there are legitimate questions as to how long he will continue coaching.
Jim Calhoun put UConn basketball on the map. He built the program from a regionally-recruiting Big East bottom feeder into an internationally-recruiting national power. The two national championships and the 2009 Final Four appearance help recruiting, as do the 20 Calhoun-coached players who have played in the NBA. Thirteen ex-Huskies were on the rosters of NBA teams last season.
Calhoun is the reason recruits come to play for the Huskies. The next coach of the Huskies will not be able to rely on his magnificent resume.
Having outstanding practice facilities has been the latest battlefield in college basketball's arms race for years now. UConn has fallen way behind in that race.
Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse have beautiful new practice facilities. South Florida recently broke ground on its own facility. That's just the Big East. UConn also has to keep up with Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, and the other national powers.
It is near criminal that two of the most successful basketball programs in the nation have to fight for practice time with the volleyball team. A dedicated basketball facility where the teams can practice, study, eat, or just hang out is a vital part of the recruiting battle.
UConn's football team has a state-of-the-art practice facility whose design and construction moved along rapidly in an effort to help the team compete at the FBS level.
Why neglect the sport that put the school on the map in the first place? Why allow the school's flagship program to face a decline?
There is, as far as I can tell, less than $10 million in donations in the bank for a project that will run around $30 million. The basketball facility will be paid for without state funds. Carmelo Anthony helped Syracuse University get its basketball facility built with a $3 million donation. I think it's time for Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon, and the rest of the ex-Huskies to get their checkbooks out and follow Carmelo's lead.
We're still painfully far from a ground-breaking on this project, but at least it's moving forward.