Gonzaga and St. Mary’s have emerged as the BYU basketball program’s top two rivals in the West Coast Conference, both men’s and women’s.
Within the state of Utah, however, the rivals are Utah and Utah State, especially when it comes to recruiting. Rarely does BYU go head-to-head with Gonzaga for a player, but every year the Cougars battle with the Utes and Aggies.
That’s why a development this week at the University of Utah, and a grand opening later this month at Utah State, should worry BYU coaches Dave Rose and Jeff Judkins.
The Utes broke ground on a $36 million basketball practice facility on Monday morning, while USU will open the $9.5 million Wayne Estes Center, a basketball and volleyball facility on May 14. Athletes at USU have already been using the 32,000 square-foot complex.
BYU, meanwhile, has been talking about the need for a basketball practice facility for years, but doesn’t appear to be close to breaking ground on one.
Athletic director Tom Holmoe said on May 30, 2013 that "it is not something that has been approved, but we are looking at doing things behind the scenes as far as fundraising."
Nine months later, at a roundtable discussion with reporters who cover BYU sports, Holmoe had little, if any, progress to report. Basically, he said the same things as he did in May.
"The basketball practice facility might be known publicly, but it is not for public consumption yet," Holmoe said on Feb. 25. "We don’t have any final approvals on anything. We are basically doing things internally with our school and trying to make plans to go forward with this, and it is a work in progress. I am not here to say one thing or another, other to say we are looking at things behind the scenes for a quiet phase of fundraising, and things are going well."
In my sit-down interview with Rose after the 2013-14 season, I asked the nine-year coach if he is satisfied with the progress that’s being made. He chose his words carefully.
"I know how our athletic administration feels. I know how the university administration feels about it. I understand the challenge, too," Rose said. "I 100 percent believe it will happen. It is just a matter of how it fits, and when it fits. For me, obviously, the sooner the better. I think it has a real effect on the progress of your players, just individually. That’s the purpose of those things. So hopefully it happens soon.’
Another reason BYU needs one badly is because the Marriott Center is booked a good chunk of December for an event called Christmas Around the World. The Cougars have to practice at the Richards Building or the Smith Fieldhouse when the event is going on, and can’t play home games the first week or so of December.
"Oh, it is very important [to get one], absolutely," Holmoe said in February. "It is of critical importance for us to go forward in basketball. I mean, there was a time when we didn’t have one, and it wasn’t that important. But it is important now. You are seeing that the basketball landscape has changed. It is not just about keeping up with the Joneses. But recruiting is very important, and you want to be able to have all the necessary attractions, meaning coaches, academics, facilities. All those things are factors in people making decisions in coming to your school. We have to do things that keep us in the forefront of peoples’ minds.
Two days after the State of the Program chat with Holmoe, I asked Rose about the need for a facility as the Cougars prepared for an upcoming game. There was a famous incident (on Twitter, at least) in which superstar Tyler Haws was kicked out of the Richards Building when he wanted to work on his game because he didn’t have the proper attire.
Rose said the biggest thing a facility does is help players improve their games.
"Players nowadays all have routines, separate routines that they go through, and I think at one time this game was, you played when your team practiced," Rose said. "And we are far past those days. Kids love to have a place to work on their own, around their schedule, so that’s probably the most important thing."
What about recruiting? Does having a facility matter?
"I don’t know," Rose said. "I think guys want to have a place to be able to improve their game. I think most places have a way to provide that for them. And we do a great job here of providing that opportunity for guys. They have places to work out. But I think the convenience of working around their schedule, the demands of travel, the demands of preparation time, I think it is a huge convenience factor for the guys to make it easier for them. What we try to do is support them with everything we do, with our academic center, with our equipment manager, with our training staff. This is another way to support the guys."
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