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Basketball: UNT’s new practice facility officially opens

Profile image for By Brett Vito / Staff Writer
By Brett Vito / Staff Writer

Before his first season at North Texas, Tony Benford put together a brochure to show recruits highlighting all the program had to offer in terms of facilities and what it had accomplished over the years.

Benford thought there was a single hole in what UNT had to offer, one that was filled when the school officially opened the Ernie Kuehne Basketball Practice Facility.

UNT athletic department officials and Kuehne, a booster who donated $1 million toward construction of the single-court venue, took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday morning.

UNT’s players and teams will have access to the venue at any time.

“You have to have one,” Benford said of a practice facility. “Kids ask about it. They want to know where they are going to practice. To be able to get in here 24-7 is a game-changer for us. There are no excuses for our guys not to get better and for us not to improve as a program when you have facilities like this.”

Kuehne was one of several boosters who served on a committee that raised $3 million in 30 days to convert an existing building near several other venues, including the UNT athletic department.

UNT plays its home games at the Super Pit across campus. The university uses the venue for several other events that require the basketball court to be removed.

The UNT men’s and women’s teams were forced to move their practices to other venues around campus when their home floor was not available. Since none of those courts are owned by the athletic department, scheduling would frequently become an issue.

That won’t be a problem now that UNT has a new venue.

“It will give us more time to be in the gym and work on our game,” UNT guard Chris Jones said. “We won’t have to share our gym with people. We can come in whenever we want. Not having a gym was a problem.”

UNT women’s head coach Mike Petersen is entering his second year at the school, but saw in that short time what a difference a new venue will make for the program, especially as it prepares to make the move to Conference USA next season.

“It will absolutely help us,” Petersen said. “It’s such a good teaching area. We have been in there for individual work already and now our players have a place they can always go to get shots up.”

Both the UNT men’s and women’s programs will use the new facility as a selling point in recruiting.

“The advantages are obvious,” Kuehne said. “In Conference USA, 20 percent of the schools have a practice facility. It will help with recruiting. I don’t think you can be competitive without it.”

The hope is that the facility will give both of UNT’s programs a boost.

“This is a sport where you can improve quickly,” Kuehne said. “With the one-and-done rule [allowing players to declare for the NBA draft after their freshman season], college basketball is a pretty level playing field. You can be competitive really quickly with a couple of recruits.”