Arizona Basketball: McKale Center Renovations Will Ensure Program Remains Elite

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistDecember 17, 2013

Dec 7, 2013; Tucson, AZ, USA; The Arizona Wildcats student section Zona Zoo, waves balloons as UNLV Rebels forward Khem Birch (2) shoots the ball during the second half at McKale Center. The Wildcats won 63-58. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

On the court, Arizona is at the top of the college basketball world. The Wildcats are ranked No. 1, a spot they solidified with a rousing comeback win at Michigan over the weekend.

And with the high-priced facelift its home is getting, expect Arizona to continue to remain near the pinnacle.

School officials announced on Monday the receipt of a $6 million gift from a Tucson family toward a planned $80 million renovation of the McKale Center. Donors Cole and Jeannie Davis have given $10 million to Arizona's athletic department over the years, according to the news release.

The $6 million gift is going directly toward the first phase of the McKale project, which will update the 40-year-old arena with enhanced lighting and seating, new video boards and other upgrades meant to keep the arena on pace with some of the massive, elegant hoops palaces other schools have built in the past decade.

In the Pac-12 Conference alone, USC christened the $147 million Galen Center in 2006 and Oregon opened the $227 million Matthew Knight Arena in 2011, while UCLA spent $136 million to spruce up Pauley Pavilion. Outside the league, Louisville opened the $238 million KFC Yum! Center in 2010.

What does a fancy arena mean to team success? Sadly, a lot.

Just like the uniform colors and styles matter far too much, so does the facility in which impressionable high school basketball and football players would choose to play. As much as the Wildcats' success under Sean Miller can be traced to his coaching ability and a knack for wooing top-tier hoop stars into coming to Tucson, the condition of the court and the appearance of the arena also plays a role.

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Arizona has managed to pull in great recruits despite its aging stadium, mostly due to the school's heritage and tradition as well as the incredible game atmosphere the 14,545-seat arena presents despite cramped bathrooms and outdated concession areas. Previous renovations and touch-ups to McKale have focused on player-centric fixes, such as to the locker rooms and weight training area, while in 2009 a practice facility opened next to McKale.

Coincidentally, the same donors who just forked over $6 million also contributed to the practice facility and previous McKale improvements, according to TucsonCitizen.com's Anthony Gimino.

These constant improvements help Arizona in many ways: first off, it keeps the school from having to build a completely new arena, as some other schools have done, and which might be impossible in Tucson because of the lack of on-campus land and the fact the City of Tucson has struggled with its own plans to update or replace its downtown arena. Secondly, the way the school is going about doing the work is in a way that's meant to be as unintrusive as possible.

TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 03:  General view of action between the Texas Tech Red Raiders and Arizona Wildcats during the college basketball game at McKale Center on December 3, 2013 in Tucson, Arizona. The Wildcats defeated the Red Raiders 79-58.  (Photo by C
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

An early part of the new upgrade, the installation of new video boards above the court, is being done in between games and is expected to be ready for Arizona's first Pac-12 game on Jan. 2 against Washington. Other improvements will be done during the offseason.

These upgrades and renovations will be pointed out to each and every recruit Arizona brings in for official or unofficial visits, and no doubt will influence those blue-chippers' decisions. It might not have been the reason the Wildcats were able to land Aaron Gordon for this season or have a commitment from 5-star prospect Stanley Johnson for next year, but McKale's appearance and condition won't prevent them from getting future superstars.


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