FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas didn’t let the frigid temperatures postpone plans to break ground on the basketball performance center on Saturday morning.
In fact, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long likened the weather to the icy reception the program received when it first proposed construction of the building.
“When we first announced this a few years ago, there were people skeptical of our need for this facility,” Long said. “I might even see some of them in this room (Saturday). They were skeptical about our need for this facility. And even some of them said that hell would freeze over before we got this facility.
“Well … we are going to get this facility and we are very, very excited about that.”
Arkansas officially broke ground on the 66,000-square foot facility during a ceremony held before the 74-68 win against Clemson. Arkansas men’s basketball coach Mike Anderson, women’s basketball coach Tom Collen, athletic director Jeff Long and UA chancellor David Gearhart all spoke during the ceremony, offering their thanks to everyone who made the building possible.
In fact, Anderson said he rarely does anything the day of a basketball game because he wants to be ready for tip-off. But Anderson said taking part in the groundbreaking ceremony for the facility was a sign that “this is really important.”
“I remember, in particular from my time at Missouri, so many guys would come in on recruiting visits and spend the night in the practice gym, working on their craft,” Anderson said. “And we’re getting those type of student-athletes now. So for me, to be here standing before you, this is like a dream that is coming true. I want to thank the chancellor, Jeff and everyone here for making this possible.”
The $25 million facility will include two basketball practice courts, men’s and women’s locker rooms, coaches’ offices, team meeting rooms, a weight room and an athletic training room. There will be a lounge and study area for athletes as well.
MAHG Architecture of Ft. Smith and Populous of Kansas City are the design partners for the project. Little Rock and Fayetteville-based CDI Constructors is the general contractor. The facility is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2015.
The facility is part of a three-pronged construction project on campus that includes a baseball/track and field indoor facility and a student-athlete success center. Construction for the baseball/track facility began earlier this year. Groundbreaking for the student-athlete success center will be held early next year.
Arkansas has not secured all the funds needed for the basketball facility, but Long said it is “critical” that the program moves forward with construction of the project.
Arkansas is the last program in the SEC to have a basketball practice facility and the Razorbacks believe the building will serve as an important recruiting tool.
But Arkansas also stressed that the facility will help both programs become more efficient. Members of the women’s basketball team have not been able to take classes only scheduled for the afternoon because of their practice schedule.
“No longer will student-athletes have to adjust their class schedules to be able to attend classes and practice,” Long said. “No longer will students have to delay graduation because they have a course that is offered during that practice time. And we are excited about that. And no longer will our coaches have to answer the question ‘If you are so committed to basketball, why don’t you have what everybody else has in a basketball practice facility?’ So our coaches will be armed with everything they need to go out and recruit the young men and women we need.”
Collen, who wasn’t sure if he’d make the ceremony because he was trying to shovel his vehicles out of the snow Saturday, thanked the supporters for “believing in this dream.” Collen said it will enhance the experience for student-athletes.
“There are two things I know our boosters want to see happen,” Collen said. “They want to see our athletes graduate and they want to see our athletes win and perform. This facility gives us the opportunity to do both.”
Arkansas guard Ky Madden set a career-high with four 3-pointers in Saturday’s win.
The junior made two of his outside shots to open the second half, helping the Razorbacks push their eight-point lead to 46-32. Madden — whose previous best was three 3-pointers — finished with 14 points. It was one off his career high.
“I didn’t surprise myself at all,” said Madden, who is 9-for-16 from 3-point range this season. “I have been putting in the work to shoot the way I did.”
Arkansas went 10-for-21 behind the 3-point line. The Razorbacks made a season-high 11 3-pointers against Southern Methodist last month.
Arkansas guard Mardracus Wade did not play Saturday, snapping his streak of 102 consecutive games played. The senior had played in every game during his career before being held out by Anderson.
“He’s OK,” Anderson said. “We played the guys that are playing well and so it’s hard to play everybody. He’s been having OK practice. We just have some guys that are playing well. Ky is playing well. Rickey (Scott) played well (Saturday).”
Wade’s previous low for minutes played — three — came in a 73-64 win against Auburn in 2011. Wade is averaging a career-low 3.1 points so far this season.
— Logan Wilson and Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau