Hambly floored by Huff project
CHAMPAIGN — Kevin Hambly is getting his wish.
No, not the new floor currently being installed at Huff Hall — home base of his University of Illinois volleyball program.
“I never thought the Huff floor was all that bad,” the Illini head coach said this week.
Instead, Hambly is delighted that a $1.2 million renovation project — including a $750,000 floor — indicates a commitment by the UI to keep his volleyball program in the historic 89-year-old building. Like others, Hambly has heard the speculation that the athletic department might eventually build an all-purpose Olympic sports facility that would house multiple Illini teams.
“Hopefully, it means we’re staying in Huff for a long time,” said Hambly, who later this year will begin his sixth season as Illinois’ head coach and his 11th on the staff. “The idea of an Olympic sports facility would be great, but I was always reluctant to leave Huff because it’s such a unique place, so I’m thrilled we’re staying in there.”
The Huff Hall project also includes new bleachers on both sidelines as well as new permanent bleachers on the south end — where the UI band plays — to replace the portable bleachers previously positioned in that area for matches.
“It’s U-shaped, kind of,” Hambly said of the new seating configuration.
There are no plans at this time, he said, for bleachers on the north end. That area traditionally has been reserved for disabled fans sitting at floor level.
Illini fans undoubtedly will be glad to know that Huff also is included in a current university project to update and/or add restrooms throughout the campus. When completed, Huff will offer six renovated restrooms — three for each gender.
The Huff Hall project began March 10, two days after the final home meet for the Illini men’s and women’s gymnastics teams.
Workers removed the entire existing floor to make way for a new one of the same dimensions. The replacement court, however, will feel noticeably different to his players, Hambly said.
The previous wood floor was designed for basketball, with a level of hardness required for dribbling a ball. The new court — also made of wood — is volleyball-specific and offers far more shock absorption than its predecessor. That’s good news for volleyball players who repeatedly are jumping and landing while playing their sport. Hambly said the new surface offers “over 300 percent more give” or cushion than the old floor.
“It will be easier on our joints,” the Illini coach said. “(A player) can get up to 600 jumps in practice — that’s the most I’ve ever counted in a practice — and that’s a lot of wear and tear on the body, and having this (floor) is going to help us with injuries.”
The appearance of the floor, Hambly said, will reflect a distinct rebranding that Nike and the UI are collaborating on for Illini athletic teams.
The project will not affect Huff Hall’s availability for graduation ceremonies in May, according to UI assistant athletic director Kathy Hug. A tarp will protect the new floor during the ceremonies, she said.
Work on the bleachers is scheduled to start July 7, Hug said, and be completed by July 31.
The price tag for that part of the project is $450,000.
During the project, the Illini are conducting spring practices at the Ubben Basketball Complex. Illinois typically hosts at least one match during its annual spring schedule, and this year will be no different.
When Kentucky visits April 19, the Illini will revisit their past by playing the match at Kenney Gym in Urbana. That’s where Illinois — which started a varsity volleyball program in 1974 — held most of its home matches prior to moving to Huff in 1990.
“Our booster club’s excited,” Hambly said. “They love having events in there.”