The University of Minnesota recently announced it has accumulated $40 million in committed donations to go towards athletic director Norwood Teague’s pet project: his $190 master facilities plan for Gophers sports.
But no shovel has touched the earth yet, and basketball coach Richard Pitino isn’t going to wait.
In the meantime, he and his staff have organized notable renovations to Bierman Field Athletic Building, which Pitino has promptly transformed into a make-shift practice facility for the team.
“I truly do believe Norwood Teague will raise whatever money he needs to raise and certainly [the $40 million announcement] is an indication of that, but it’s my job to make the best of whatever situation we have,” Pitino said.
“I’m not going to sit back and wait. Every year, every recruiting class that we have is way too important.”
When Pitino arrived in April of 2013, the Gophers were practicing at Wililams Arena, which is also used by the women’s team, wrestling team, gymnastics team, cheerleading team and other high school events. They weight trained at Mariucci Arena. Most of their classes and academic tutoring were held on the other side of campus.
In Bierman, Pitino saw potential to change all of that. After putting up a wall to separate the court from view, the team began regularly practicing there.
And in the last couple of months, the Gophers have decorated their new home.
These days, Bierman’s walls are decked with pictures of each player on the team and murals of the Barnyard and Williams Arena. The entryway has been re-painted in snazzy fashion, with new detailed accents leading into the court area. A new locker room – the old one was built to hold about four people, center Mo Walker said – is in progress.
“We have 12 to 13 people, so it’s good to have a much bigger space for all of us to fit in,” Walker said.
Last summer, the Gophers revamped the weight room in the building, which is used by numerous programs, adding new machines and effectively moving the team out of Mariucci. Bierman houses the team’s academic counselors and tutors as well.
“They’re really excited about it,” Pitino said of the players. “Austin Hollins was saying as he was leaving [to take a professional contract in France] ‘Boy, I wish we had this.’
Already, the new setup is catching the eyes of the next wave of potential Gophers.
DeLaSalle’s Jarvis Johnson, one of the Gophers’ top targets for 2015, eyed the changes to Bierman on his official visit last weekend.
“I really liked it,” he said, “Knowing that they work fast. From the time I was there for the team camp, there has been a lot of progress made there. I like what they’re trying to do with the building.”
What Pitino likes, more than anything, is the convenience the new arrangement gives the players.
“They can now lift in a state-of-the-art weight room upstairs,” he said. “They can now practice in a beautiful-looking gym. And now they can do a lot of their academic stuff, all in one building. Everyone talks about practice facilities and the arms race and all that, and that’s all well and good but at the end of the day, you want to make all this stuff as accessible as possible for all your players. We’ve gotten to that point, which I’m really excited about."
**The Gophers are also renovating their locker room at Williams Arena, which is outdated and compact. They added a barber chair in the arena building as well. The locker room will be completed by the start of the season.
“We’re redoing really the whole blueprint of the locker room,” Pitino said. “I don’t know if its going to be bigger, it’s just going to be newer. I don’t know that that locker room has been touched for many, many years. Just brand new lockers and just trying to make it look as nice as possible.”
**All photos were tweeted by Pitino.