VCU’s new men’s and women’s basketball practice facility provides plenty of opportunities to impress, from the five cameras and performance-monitoring technology around the courts, to the blown-up pictures on the walls, to the school-color-themed black bamboo flooring and pool tables in the players’ lounges, to a floor in a hydrotherapy tub that can be raised and lowered, to display cabinets and interactive components in the lobby.
That was part of the design of the approximately $25 million facility school officials believe will have a significant impact in developing players, attracting high-caliber recruits and helping the Rams maintain a national presence.
“This building has all the comforts of home, for the coaches and the student-athletes,” said VCU director of facilities and Siegel Center operations Tim Lampe, who gave the media a tour Thursday. “For a recruit to come in and see the ‘wow factor,’ you see the building. Then you walk into the lobby and there’s another ‘wow factor.’ Then you go to the courts and go up in the team lounge and in the locker rooms — every turn it’s a ‘wow.’ You saw all the (pictures on the walls). We tell a great story in this building about both programs.”
The 62,000-square-foot facility, which sits across from the Siegel Center on West Marshall Street, still needs some finishing touches, furniture and other amenities before the men’s and women’s teams move in at the end of the week. Ribbon-cutting is scheduled for Nov. 2.
It replaces the men’s practice area in Franklin Street Gym, which opened in 1951, was expanded in 1970 and doesn’t have air conditioning. The gym area underwent a $250,000 renovation in 2006.
The women’s team plays its games and practices mostly in the Siegel Center, but occasionally it practices on Franklin Street. VCU’s master plan calls for replacing Franklin Street Gym with new buildings for the humanities and sciences.
Lampe took players on a tour for the first time last week and said “they were like little kids on Christmas.”
“Certainly it will help (with recruiting),” said new men’s coach Will Wade, who called it one of the top-five facilities in the country. “We’ve got to get kids here and show it to them. I think one thing that separates (our facility) is a lot of people have practice gyms, but ours is an actual development center. We’ve got the latest in technology, state-of-the-art things that can not only help you become a better basketball player, but can develop parts of your body, can develop things for the rest of your life that you’ll need.
“The facility and the brick and mortar are great, but the developmental pieces that are in the facility are … things we can’t wait to show off.”
Players will have 24-hour access to the building, which houses identical courts and areas — one each for the men’s and women’s teams — that are separated on the first floor by the lobby, weight room and sports medicine room, and on the second floor by players’ lounges, a dining area and administrative offices. The coaches’ offices on the upper floor overlook the courts. Coaches’ lounges have sleep sofas.
Each court has five cameras — two in the ceiling and three on the walls — to record practices and workouts, as well as team theaters for video study and a viewing deck that wraps around one end of the floor.
Part of the technology will include players wearing a vest with a chip positioned between the shoulder blades that feeds information to television monitors on the walls.
“They’ll be displaying their heart rates, their perspiration rates, their movements,” Lampe said. “You think of Briante Weber. We could have kept stats on his movements, left and right, forward and back, up and down, the impact on his body. So when he’s recovering from that knee injury, we have baseline stats on how he does when he’s healthy. When he’s rehabbing, and he says he’s ready to go, we’ll put him through a workout and the numbers will show whether he’s ready or not ready.”
A hydration station is located at the end of the court if information indicates players need water.
The sports medicine area features a hot tub, cold tub and hydrotherapy tub.
“You can put your point guard in there or your 7-foot center in there and adjust the height of the (floor) to fit your player,” Lampe said.
The lounge areas for the players on each side have leather chairs with ottomans, long sofas, a pool table, a huge TV and a small kitchenette. They open to a buffet-style dining area that seats 28 people. Chairs and tables are taller and wider, and TV monitors are everywhere throughout the building.
VCU started planning for the practice facility, which includes two 1,500-square-foot retail spaces in the front of the building, several years ago under previous coach Shaka Smart. Rams officials visited several facilities around the country and noted likes and dislikes.
Wade, then one of Smart’s assistants, had plenty of input. He and Lampe wrote the documents detailing what the coaching staff wanted.
Wade spent the past two seasons as the coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga. He was hired in April to replace Smart, who took over at Texas.
“We went room by room,” Lampe said. “‘This is what I want in a team lounge. This is what I want in a locker room. This is what the head coach needs. This is what the coaches’ locker room needs. We need a dining area.’
“Having Will Wade come back full circle, we laughed about that.”
At Wade’s Siegel Center office, seats have been added to the balcony overlooking the floor and has been sold as a suite for games.