Men’s, women’s hoops teams open practice facility

By Joel Jellison

When Kirk Schulz set out to hire an athletic director early in his days as Kansas State president, facility upgrades were a popular topic of conversation.

On Friday night, Schulz and his athletic director, John Currie, dedicated the brand new $18 million Basketball Training Facility.

Situated just to the east of Bramlage Coliseum, the 50,000-square-foot building will serve as the headquarters for both the men’s and women’s programs. It features practice courts and locker rooms for each team, player lounges, an auditorium for film study, a weight room, sports medicine center and a hydrotherapy facility.

Schulz and Currie joined lead contributors Rand and Patti Berney and Jim and Laura Johnson, as well as head coaches Bruce Weber and Deb Patterson and seniors Rodney McGruder and Brittany Chambers in cutting the ribbon.

McGruder and Chambers, each representing their respective teams, shot and made ceremonial first free throws.

Speaking to the large crowd in attendance, Schulz said he still remembered the early conversations with Currie about upgrading athletic facilities.

“I remember interviewing John and talking about the kinds of things that we needed to do,” he said. “This facility was a thing that was recommended and talked about by our men’s and women’s basketball staffs. (It) was needed to make sure that we continue to compete in a very tough Big 12 Conference.”

Patterson said the No. 1 advantage the facility will have for her team is in eliminating the need to schedule practices around the men’s team. Now, both squads could practice at the same time, on their own respective courts.

Chambers said it will eliminate a problem that used to be caused by the men’s team playing nationally-televised games.

“When the men have ESPN in town for one of their games, we didn’t get the opportunity to practice, and a lot of people didn’t know that,” she said. “Now when gamedays overlap or things like that, it’s easy because we can come in here and we know we can practice. We aren’t limited to the nights when the guys have game days and the girls can’t use the gym to come and practice. 

“This gives us accessible hours so that we can be in here 24 hours a day, seven days a week and that will help us tremendously when the season hits.”

Patterson also said the facility shows a commitment to the program that will leave a lasting impact with recruits.

“Now recruits will walk into this facility, first of all, be in awe, second of all, they will understand Kansas State has made a big, serious investment in women’s basketball,” she said. “And they take women’s basketball seriously, and are on par with the teams they compete against in the Big 12.”

Weber said adding the practice facility was an important step in putting K-State on equal grounds with the other schools in the Big 12, all of which have their own practice facility for basketball.

The new men’s basketball coach said he feels as if K-State has a new advantage over the other schools by having the newest facility.

Weber said the facility has the “wow” factor.

“I’ve been in a lot of buildings over the years, including NBA buildings and other college basketball arenas,” he said. “This place is special and is up there with some of the best facilities in the country. It has all the bells and whistles and the people who built it didn’t skip anything.

“I hope our players appreciate it, because a lot of people have sacrificed by donating money or playing through the years, at Ahearn Field House or Bramlage Coliseum toughing it out, to be able to have a facility like this. “

Each gym will have six different basketball goals for the players to shoot on, making free throws a popular topic of conversation during Friday’s events.

Weber said although they joked about needing to improve team free throw percentages from the past few seasons, the gyms will benefit both teams in free throw practice.

“It’s hard to practice free throws when there are only three baskets in the gym,” he said. “Now there are six on one side and six on the other. Everyone has their own basket, so they can be much more efficient.”

A handful of former players with retired numbers were on hand for the unveiling too. Ernie Barrett, Jack Parr, Rolando Blackman and Shalee Lehning were each in attendance.

Lehning said it feels good to be a part of what built up to the practice facilities becoming a reality.

“I think I’m just excited to have been a part of it,” she said. “I think, as alumni, we look back and say maybe we did something to contribute to this. Maybe part of the hard work and success we had when I was here was a part of building to this.”

McGruder said from a player’s perspective, there are no more excuses toward improving.

“It will be very beneficial,” he said. “We can get into the gym any time that we want to now. It is up to us on how successful we want to be. We just have to take advantage of it.”

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