The North Texas basketball teams will finally have a home of their own in the next few months.
UNT announced Wednesday that it had raised more than $2.5 million to fund construction of a new basketball practice facility in the Mean Green Village, a new video board at the Super Pit and endowed scholarships.
The new practice facility will be constructed in a building located across the street from the Mean Green Athletic Center that the athletic department already owns.
UNT currently holds most of its practices at the Super Pit, which is also known as the UNT Coliseum. The university owns the facility and plays host to other events in the venue throughout the year.
Some of those other events, including university and high school commencement ceremonies, require school officials to remove the basketball court from the coliseum floor. UNT has to move its practices to other courts around campus during those times, leaving the program homeless for a large portions of the year.
“Athletes want a place they can call home, and when you bring recruits in you want to be able to show them that you are going to invest in their game,” UNT men’s basketball coach Tony Benford said. “If you don’t have a place where they can go 24/7, it’s tough to show that commitment. We can show that commitment to our current players now as well. We have guys who will be over there all the time. They will sleep in there.”
UNT raised the money for the project that is part of an overall fundraising campaign for athletics in less than 30 days beginning in July.
“Personally, I wanted to raise the funds in record time to show others that it is possible at North Texas,” said C. Dan Smith, the athletic fundraising campaign chairman.
Ernie Kuehne served as chairman of the committee in charge of raising funds for the new basketball venue. He took on the project largely because of the need he saw for UNT’s basketball teams to have a home court.
“This project was special because it wasn’t in response to what other schools were building, but rather a need to fill a void for the continued development of our basketball programs,” Kuehne said.
UNT women’s basketball coach Mike Petersen could see that void after taking over the school’s program in the off-season.
“It’s absolutely huge,” Petersen said. “It’s a place players can go play 24/7. We don’t have that here. Our program is based on developing players and being able to teach. Right now, I don’t have a classroom. When the practice facility gets done, I will have a classroom.”
Both of UNT’s coaches said the addition of a practice facility would bolster their efforts to bring top talent to the school, especially as it prepares to move to Conference USA in 2013.
“In recruiting, if you don’t have a practice gym, people will kill you,” Benford said. “It’s an arm race now with facilities. You have to have it.”
UNT’s men’s and women’s programs will share the venue. Benford said that won’t be a problem, especially not compared to what UNT’s programs faced in the past.
Both teams practiced at several courts across campus the last few seasons, including those at the Physical Education Building, the Norval Pohl Recreation Center and the Mean Green Volleyball Center.
The addition of the new practice facility is expected to bolster a pair of programs on the rise.
The UNT men advanced to the NCAA tournament in 2007 and 2010 and have made the Sun Belt Conference tournament final in each of the last three seasons. The UNT women narrowly missed snapping a string of what is now six straight losing seasons a year ago, when the Mean Green finished 15-16.
The addition of a practice facility coincides with a change in leadership in both programs.
Benford took over the UNT men’s program after Johnny Jones left to become the head coach at LSU, while Petersen arrived after Karen Aston left for Texas.
Benford was an assistant coach at Marquette, while Petersen was the head coach at Wake Forest.
UNT will also upgrade the Super Pit, where the Mean Green will continue to play its home games.
The school will install a new video board to replace the 12-year old system that has become outdated.
UNT’s coaches credited the way the project came together to the boosters involved in the project, athletic director Rick Villarreal and university President Lane Rawlins.
“It shows that we have boosters who really care about this program,” Benford said. “For this to come to fruition after 30 days and all of a sudden here we are with a facility that could be ready by December is amazing.”
Norris to transfer
Sophomore guard Trey Norris has left UNT and plans to transfer to another school, Benford confirmed Wednesday.
The former South Grand Prairie standout played in 31 games for UNT last season and averaged 1.6 points an outing.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .