By Lorie Hailey
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 12, 2012) — A portion of the basketball court used in the 2012 NCAA National Championship game in New Orleans was delivered to Rupp Arena today to be used in the new locker rooms for the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team.
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Northwestern Mutual, an official corporate partner of the NCAA, purchased the floor after the championship game this spring. The company is donating more than 3,000 s.f. of the floor, including the center court section with the NCAA Final Four logo on it, to the Wildcats.
Sections of the floor will be installed later this week as part of a $ $2.9 million locker room renovation project initiated by Coach John Calipari and funded mostly by private donors.
The NCAA Final Four logo will be the centerpiece of the new UK locker room, Calipari said at a press conference announcing the donation. That section of the floor fits perfectly in the new round locker room, he said.
The floor will be a helpful tool in recruiting new players to the university, Calipari said.
“It does motivate when we’re bringing families and recruits in here,” he said. “It will be a factor in continuing to get the best players here.”
Adding the championship floor to Rupp Arena “will further contribute to the magic surrounding this building and this program,” Calipari said. “It will not only enhance what will be the gold standard for locker rooms across the country, it will serve as a fitting tribute to a special team.”
Another portion of the floor will be divided in to 1,000 souvenir pieces and signed by Calipari. Northwestern Mutual will auction some of the signed pieces to benefit Kentucky-based charities, said Dan Rivers, managing partner of Northwestern Mutual’s Kentucky and Southern Indiana Group. A significant number of the pieces will be auctioned to benefit pediatric cancer research, Northwestern’s philanthropic focus. The Calipari Foundation also will receive some of the floor sections.
Northwestern Mutual will release the details of the charity auctions later this fall, Rivers said.
He wouldn’t say how much the floor cost, but said he hopes the auctions will raise far more for charity than the amount Northwestern Mutual spent on it.
“We plan to raise several hundred thousands dollars, maybe even seven figures,” Rivers said.
The locker rooms project
The entrance to the locker room facilities will be “what we call a signature area,” Calipari said in March when he announced the plan. “It will be an attention-grabbing entrance that will highlight some of the program’s most special moments. It will likely feature all-glass encasings with championship trophies, game balls and more,” he said.
To the right of the entrance will be the player’s lounge, which players can use “when they come to Rupp Arena early and they want to relax, watch TV and hang out with their teammates,” Calipari said. “Our other sports teams can use this area as a staging area for recruits.”
The addition of hydrotherapy treatment whirlpools will enhance the expanded team training room. The hot- and cold-water tubs will help players get ready before a game, “and they can recover and rehabilitate afterwards,” the coach said.
A theatre-style meeting room also will be added to the locker room area. This is where the team and coaching stafg will meet the team prior to the game, at halftime and postgame, Calipari said.
“Right now we have to meet in the locker room where the players get dressed and eat,” he said. “This new meeting room will keep us out of their locker area. That locker room area should be for the players only. No one else should be in there.”
The new locker room, which Calipari calls the “heart of the new facility,” will be round.
“We want our players to be able to look and talk and with each other before and after the game without anything in the way,” the coach said. “Right now our locker room is an ‘L’ shape with a pole in the middle of the room, which obstructs the players’ view and doesn’t allow them to interact with all their teammates.”
Other additions include a medical room with an X-ray machine, another coach’s office and a new press area.
Four other athletic locker rooms also will be upgraded, and eight small dressing rooms will be converted into four large ones for performers who play at Rupp Arena. A new second floor mezzanine for storage will be built on the west side of Rupp.
“This will be more than just a locker room for our basketball team,” Calipari said in March. “It’s a facility that all of our teams and coaches at the University of Kentucky can use in recruiting during our games to relax and hang out, whether that’s football, baseball, softball, volleyball, etc. They will be able to use this area prior to the games and when they’re not in use.”
This year’s Wildcats
The 2012-13 squad is a “different team” and will “not be as good as a year ago,” Calipari said.
The coach has been working with former coach Joe B. Hall, he said, to determine the best way to “play two big guys together,” Calipari said.
“We’re going to be fine,” he said.
The coach does not necessarily expect the Superdome floor to be a motivator for this year’s team, though.
“We don’t talk much about last year with this team,” Calipari said. “There’s only one player from last year and he didn’t play much, Kyle Wiltjer.”