Court in Bierman gets upgraded

The University is adding amenities to the building before a formal practice facility comes later on.

Jack Satzinger

Tubby Smith didn’t hide the fact that he wanted a new practice facility during his six-year tenure as the University of Minnesota’s men’s basketball coach, and now more than a year into Richard Pitino’s time at the helm, the facility still hasn’t been built.

But that hasn’t stopped the men’s basketball coach from working to improve his team’s practice conditions.

The University’s athletics department has made renovations to the old court at the Bierman Field Athletic Building to convert it into a usable practice space as the team awaits a new facility.

Last July, athletics director Norwood Teague unveiled the school’s master facility plan. The first phase of the plan is expected to cost $190 million and includes constructing a new men’s and women’s basketball practice facility in the next six to eight years.

“We have a significant fundraising campaign in front of us that’s ongoing now,” Gophers executive associate athletics director Mike Ellis said. “What we’re trying to do is create momentum for the program. We weren’t going to wait to get a facility built to help Richard gain momentum.”

Last year, the University’s athletics department built a wall around the practice court to make it a more private venue. Now, the playing area is seeing another makeover that will help bridge the gap between the current and new practice facility.

Ellis said they’ve made upgrades to the weight room and gymnasium and are now working on offices.

Assistant men’s basketball coach Ben Johnson said the renovations will not only help current players but also potentially have a positive impact on recruiting.

The state’s top players for the class of 2015 have taken notice.

“It’s going to be really nice. I can tell,” said Jarvis Johnson, a DeLaSalle High School guard.

Johnson recently visited campus unofficially and is one of Minnesota’s top targets.

Alex Illikainen, the other top 2015 Gophers target from Minnesota, said he often talks to Pitino and the coaching staff about facilities.

“They’re putting a lot of money into that, so that’s huge,” Illikainen said.

The women’s basketball team traditionally practices at Williams Arena, but the team is spending its summer workouts at the Bierman court this year because Williams Arena is having a new roof installed.

Head Women’s basketball coach Marlene Stollings said her team started its summer workouts last week. NCAA rules allow the team to hit the court for two hours per week, which the Gophers’ new coaching staff has split up into three 40-minute segments.

“The first couple weeks will be us pretty much just figuring out exactly what we have from a skill set perspective,” Stollings, who was hired in April, said of her new team.

While the new facility Smith coveted is still in the conceptual phase, Minnesota’s basketball teams are taking advantage of the renovated one that is readily available.

“We’re always looking for ways to help our coaches move their programs forward,” Ellis said. “It takes a while. It’s like turning a battleship around in a bathtub.”