Arizona coaches see facility upgrades as difference makers
MAY 07, 2014 11:40p ET
PHOENIX -- Apple may do it more often than most, but product enhancement and an improved customer experience are valuable components of every business, college athletics included. After upgrading the football facilities, the University of Arizona is a few weeks into a major redo of McKale Center, and Sean Miller could not be more pleased.
"It's the most significant thing that has happened since I've come to Arizona," said Miller, who took the Wildcats within a field goal of the Final Four last season. "I think it is going to be a game-changer beyond belief.
Miller was in Phoenix on Wednesday as part of an event in which football coach Rich Rodriguez, women's basketball coach Niya Butts and athletic director Greg Byrne hobnobbed with university alumni and supporters.
"It is like anything in the world of technology and business. Things change. What was nice yesterday isn't quite as nice today. There are a lot of people competing for the prize that we are. So no question, this is something that I would say is crucial for our program to continue to have the success that we've had."
A $30 million renovation to McKale Center, which just turned 40, is to include new padded seating, upgraded lighting and a new floor with the same Lute and Bobbi Olson Court logo. The project is expected to be completed by the start of the 2014-15 season, and a new, 25 percent larger video board should be in place for the Pac-12 season, UA officials have said. Player amenities, which will help recruiting, are to include an expanded team room and a video room.
"In my mind will enable us to have the best facilities in college basketball," said Miller, who arrived in the 2009-10 season. "When you consider the Richard Jefferson (practice) gym, the newness of the arena, the team room, the movie theater, all the things that we are going to have, it is going to be second to none. It affects all levels, recruiting, our current team, and i think for our fans it will only enhance the environment."
Arizona was 33-5 last season, won the Pac-12 regular-season title, and won three games in the NCAA tournament before falling to Wisconsin in overtime, 64-63, in the Elite Eight. Junior Nick Johnson and freshman Aaron Gordon opted to enter the NBA draft, but the UA returns contributors T.J. McConnell, Kaleb Tarczewski, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Gabe York and Brandon Ashley, whose injury after a 21-0 start was difficult to overcome. Small forward Stanley Johnson is the most decorated of a five-player recruiting class that Miller believes will help the Wildcats carry on.
"We had a team that could have won the national championship," Miller said. "Sometimes as a program and as a group, you have to knock at the door a few times before you knock it in. This year, believe me, we have a hungry group. We have a lot of exciting returning players who I believe are on a quest to have a great offseason, and we have a group of five newcomers that I think will put us in a position a year from now to be one of those teams that can win it all."
While Miller expects the McKale improvements to bring be a benefit, football coach Rich Rodriguez already has seen the impact of the $72 million Lowell-Stephens Football Facility in the north end of Arizona Stadium that was completed in August, 2013. The facility includes pool and ping-pong tables, state-of-the-art locker and weight rooms, hot and cold tubs and a $50,000 zero-gravity treadmill to help players rehab from leg injuries. Many professional teams have a similar treadmill.
"It's been a game-changer," said Rodriguez, who will begin his third season with a game against UNLV at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30. "We went from not showing them the locker room the first two years -- we told them we had one, but we didn't show it to them -- to now having one of the best in the country. Not only for recruiting, but for our current players. We're surrounded by elite athletes at the U of A in every sport. We want our guys in football to treat themselves as elite athletes, well now they have an elite facility, so they have no excuse not to."
“ It's the most significant thing that has happened since I've come to ArizonaI think it is going to be a game-changer beyond belief.”
Keeping up with the Joneses -- or the Phil Knights -- is part of the equation.
"It's a little bit of that all in college athletics," Rodriguez said. "You don't have to have the best, but you have to have something comparable that shows that you are an elite program and shows you are committed to football. I'm not sure you could say that about a lot of facilities until the last 10 years. This facility was built for them. I know our guys love it."
Rodriguez must replace 1,885-yard rusher Ka'Deem Carey and quarterback B.J. Denker from an 8-5 team that ended the season with a 42-19 victory over Boston College in Independence Bowl victory.
"We've gotten a little bigger. We still have to get stronger and more size, but we'll have a deeper team up front defensively," Rodriguez said. "We have a deep stable of wideouts. I think we have talent at quarterback, we just don't have the experience there. I think there is a whole crew of guys who can get it done."
Carey, who had 4,232 yards rushing in his career, is projected to be a third- or fourth-round pick in the NFL draft that begins Thursday.
"He's going to make somebody an every-down back and play for a long time," Rodriguez said. "The NFL, they all have their own ways of drafting. You can get great value in the mid-rounds, and they'll get great value if they draft him in the mid-rounds."