Illini basketball practice facility getting $30 million renovation

Illini basketball practice facility getting $30 million renovation

Hear the entire news conference with Josh Whitman, Nancy Fahey and Brad Underwood.

CHAMPAIGN — The PODS storage container sitting to the west of Ubben basketball complex isn’t there for decoration. The Illinois basketball program has maxed out its space at its practice facility.

One $30 million fundraising campaign can change that.

Illinois announced plans Monday afternoon to renovate and expand Ubben that would more than double the square footage while giving the 20-year-old facility a state-of-the-art transformation. Once boasting the only facility of its kind in college basketball, Illinois has fallen behind in the facilities arms race in the last two decades. The renovation and expansion plans would vault the Illini back to the top.

“It was the first building that was a standalone practice facility for a basketball team,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said. “We had people flying in from all over the country to see this space and benchmark it with an understanding of what was necessary to move their programs forward. 

“This building changed the game for Illinois basketball, and we’re prepared to change it once again.”

The Ubben expansion to the east, west and south will add approximately 45,000 square feet to the building, while renovations will take place to about 8,300 square feet of existing space. The total project will include additional court space for both the men’s and women’s teams, new locker rooms and team areas, a new, two-story strength and conditioning space, new sports medicine facilities and more office space. No definitive timeline was announced on Monday about when the possible project would be completed, but Whitman said the overhaul is a three-year process from when it gets approved to when it is completed.

Whitman pointed to Ubben’s construction as the first example of Illinois’ formula for success. Pair strong coaches with the resources they need. The Illini have accomplished that since in both men’s golf and men’s tennis with coaching hires (Mike Small, Craig Tiley and Brad Dancer) and facility upgrades to both programs.

“For the 10 years after we opened (Ubben), we did some things that Illinois basketball had never done before,” Whitman said. “I think it’s no coincidence that following the opening of this building and teaming this facility with tremendous coaching, our program shot to levels that have never before been seen. (Monday’s) announcement allows us to put ourselves in a position to take a similar step forward.”

The needs for college basketball programs have changed since Ubben opened in 1998 and was part of the onus for tackling a project of this nature. Coaching staffs are bigger. Technology has changed in how teams train and prepare on and off the court. Sports medicine and strength and conditioning opportunities have changed, and recruiting is more of a focus than it’s ever been.

“All of (the renovations) will enable us to streamline and function from a high end efficiency rate,” Illinois men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood said. “Just simple storage space and being able to put things away sounds simple, but we’ve outgrown that in this facility. Being functional is something I’m very big on. More space and having our athletes around us more in a self-contained environment is something that is a very big part of what we do today.”

The proposed Ubben renovations and expansion will be the latest in a string of multi-million-dollar projects for Illinois that already includes $79.2 million for a football performance center and $18 million for Demirjian Park.

That list could grow with an $8 million baseball project, $5-6 million for the same facility upgrade for softball and potentially $50-60 million to add hockey and provide a new home for volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics with a proposed downtown Champaign arena.

“There’s a lot going on on this campus, and it might be easy to say, ‘Let’s put this on the back burner and wait for a little bit,’” Illinois women’s basketball coach Nancy Fahey said. “If we want to reach our full potential, we can’t wait. The time is now.

“When I’m out recruiting, people come up to me and say, ‘Will that player be a difference maker? Will that change us? Will that make us better.’ ... This Ubben renovation is our difference maker. This will truly change the face of our program.”

The $30 million Ubben expansion and renovation follows the $170 million remodeling of State Farm Center that was completed in Dec. 2015. The future of Ubben gives Illinois more to sell on the recruiting trail.

“We sell the fact that this program committed a tremendous amount of money to the State Farm Center to make it better and to make it elite,” Underwood said. “Now we’re doing that in our everyday home in this Ubben practice facility. They’re going to have not one of the best, (but) the best practice facility to call home every day. That’s a comforting feeling, and we’ll sell that every single day to every single recruit.”