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dogs' practice facility shines..best in the country?


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dogs' practice facility shines

training annex at stegeman coliseum is first-rate

by chip towers

the atlanta journal-constitution

published on: 10/21/07 athens dominique wilkins laughed out loud at the thought of it.

on the eve of the grand opening of georgia's new practice and training annex at stegeman coliseum last month, wilkins was standing in a foyer next to the black granite staircase leading from the 17,000-square-foot strength and conditioning area up to the 17,000-square-foot men's basketball practice gym, coaches' offices and locker room. he was asked how the new facilities compared to the ones he used while earning the nickname "human highlight film" as a georgia basketball player from 1980-82.

"are you kidding me?" the nba hall of famer and atlanta hawks executive said with a laugh.

"we had everything we needed, but compared to this we were in a broom closet. this place is unbelievable."

georgia spent about $30 million, raised through private donations and athletics association money, to build it. known for now as the coliseum training facility, it was completed this summer and will be used by the men's and women's basketball teams and the women's gymnastics team.

"i can safely say it's the best in the country," men's basketball coach dennis felton said. "i've seen most of the new ones around and a lot of people have nice facilities now, but nothing comes close to this."

'get to that next level'

when evans succeeded vince dooley as athletics director in 2004, he said building a dedicated practice and training facility for basketball and gymnastics was "a very high priority." particularly in the case of men's basketball, which has struggled to win consistently.

"basketball is significantly important to us here," evans said. "we felt like this would be one thing that would help us get to that next level."

with the approval of the athletics association's board of directors and input from felton, women's basketball coach andy landers and gymnastics coach suzanne yoculan, evans set out to "build the best facility of its kind."

evans and a team of advisers traveled the country to look at similar facilities and get an idea of what they wanted. they visited kentucky, florida, texas and oklahoma, among others. they most closely scrutinized kentucky, which opened the $30 million joe craft center last january, and florida, which was one of the first in the sec to erect a dedicated practice facility when it opened a $10 million building in 2001.

the best facility possible

first and foremost, it is big 120,000 square feet.

the second floor splits 34,472 square feet between the men's and women's basketball teams. each has its own oversized gym with six goals, coaches offices, player locker rooms and lounges, showers, restrooms, video areas, meeting rooms, display areas, coaches' locker rooms, reception areas, workrooms and video storage areas.

"to me the best thing about it is the convenience of it," felton said. "having the gym right there across the hall from our offices is just so much better than before, when we were separated by two or three floors."

underneath is the strength

and conditioning area, with a state-of-the-art weight room and a 55-yard sprint track.

one whole side of the building is the 22,530-foot gymnastics training area. called the suzanne yoculan gymnastics center, it has multiples of every apparatus and loose-foam pits.

"anything we do, we're thinking about excellence unparalleled, and we wanted to build the best facility possible, " evans said. "we also wanted it to be very functional and fill the needs of all our coaches. we wanted to do something that everyone would be extremely proud of."

said yoculan: "we walk in there every day and just go, 'wow.' "

deserving coaches

in the case of gymnastics, which has won eight national championships, and women's basketball, which has been to four final fours, the practice and training facility is a luxury earned through years of sustained success.

"for someone like coach landers, this is something that is so, so deserving," evans said. "he's been here for so many years and done so well. . . . when you start talking about suzanne, when you get to the level that she has, she had a good facility before but now she has a great facility, which she clearly deserved."

for men's basketball, the hope is the facility is the missing link.

"oh, heck yeah. that'll make a huge difference," said minnesota coach tubby smith, formerly of kentucky and georgia. "they've got a place they can call their own now. it was a need. if you weren't going to get a new arena, then this was the next-best thing."

smith, who coached georgia for two seasons (1995-97) before leaving for kentucky, was instrumental in getting the craft center built for the wildcats.

"i got to enjoy it for about two months," said smith, who left for minnesota after the final four last april. he got a tour of georgia's facility when he last came through athens.

"what a beautiful place," he said. "i was so impressed. i really loved the oval locker rooms. it's something that was long overdue."

tell that to former coach hugh durham, who toiled for 17 seasons in the coliseum before it underwent a multi-million dollar renovation for the 1996 olympic games.

"what's going to be perceived is there is a commitment from the top to basketball," durham said. "georgia is not going to lose any players because of facilities. stegeman looks phenomenal to me; it's amazing what they've done in there. couple that with the new practice facility and offices and georgia has everything it needs."

keeping up in the sec

"it's the best in the country right now," durham said of georgia's new home. "of course, nine months from now somebody will open something nicer. that's the way it is nowadays."

in 2001, florida opened a new $10 million practice and training building for its basketball programs, which orlando sentinel columnist mike bianchi jokingly called "the taj ma-hoops." the gators have won the last two national championships.

"i think it had a lot to do with them getting it turned around," smith said. "we're planning to do one here [minnesota]. in order to compete, that's what you have to do."

tennessee plans to move into the $16 million pratt pavilion later this year. ole miss is in the planning and fundraising stages for a facility. auburn will break ground next year on a $92.5 million arena that will open in 2010.

"we can't ask our coaches to compete at the highest level if we don't give them all the necessary resources to do so," evans said. "and that goes for basket

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