CHAMPAIGN — New facilities, nearly all geared toward enhancing player performance, have changed the actual landscape of Illinois athletics in the last five years.
The Smith Center was first to the finish for Illinois football. Demirjian Park opened to address needs for both Illinois soccer and the track and field program. The Illini golf teams really benefited, first with an expansion of their indoor practice space and then the completed renovation of Atkins Golf Club.
Practice facilities for both Illinois baseball and softball are largely complete save for finishing touches.
The last of those projects — what started as a plan for upgrades on six facilities in five years and grew in scope — is also nearing its final construction stage.
A renovated and expanded Ubben Basketball Complex is on track to be completed before the start of the 2022-23 college basketball season.
“I had a chance to go through it last week,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said. “It will be one of, if not the, finest basketball facilities in the country.”
The renovation and expansion of Ubben is anticipated to be finished in stages. The basketball courts are slated to be complete by the end of August, which will allow both the men’s and women’s teams to return home.
The Illinois women’s team spent the entire 2021-22 season out of Ubben and practicing almost exclusively at State Farm Center. The men’s team moved out at the end of last season and is holding its summer workouts at State Farm Center after some spring work at the ARC.
Construction on the north end of Ubben is scheduled to be completed in September. That’s where the locker rooms, player lounges, strength and conditioning and sports medicine spaces will be located.
“One of the spaces I’m probably most excited about is sports medicine and strength and conditioning and recovery area,” Whitman said. “It’s really a dynamic area in the way it’s interconnected. Some of the things we’re doing in recovery is really cutting edge. That’s kind of the new frontier of sports performance is helping prepare our athletes’ muscles to go work again. We’ve got some new technology there and dedicated space we’re excited for.”
The south end of Ubben, where the coaches and staff for both programs will have their offices, will be the last finished in early to mid-October. If the project remains on schedule, the Illinois basketball teams will be able to start the 2022-23 season with a completed, state-of-the-art practice facility fully at their disposal.
The completion of the Ubben renovation and expansion will cap the five-year, $155 million investment in athletic facilities. The next stage will be at a smaller scale for now.
Like at Memorial Stadium, Whitman called improvements to Huff Hall “incremental changes” for the next two years. The plans ahead of the 2022 volleyball season include mostly aesthetic changes. The old basketball goals have been removed, and the walls and ceiling will repainted.
A new videoboard will also be installed before the 2022 season. Next year’s anticipated improvement is new lighting.
The issue many Illinois volleyball fans have with the current setup inside the 97-year-old building, however, is under review.
“We continue to study how to make the upper-bowl seats more viewer friendly for our fans,” Whitman said. “That’s a harder solution, but one we still have front of mind.”
Potentially moving out of Huff Hall could be the Illinois wrestling team.
The Illini already made half the move last year, hosting home events at State Farm Center in Mike Poeta’s first year as coach. The feasibility of a standalone practice facility is now being studied, which would get the wrestling team out of the upper level of Huff.
“We’ve had a few donors step forward, and we’ve been able to put together a nice sum of money we think could help put a meaningful dent in what those expenses could look like,” Whitman said. “Nothing final or official to announce on that, but it is something we’re giving a hard look at.”