Bill Mitchell, longtime Westport retailer and avid UConn basketball fan, opened his clothing store Tuesday evening to a group of potentially like-minded supporters to highlight the essential need for the new UConn Basketball Champions Center on the UConn campus.
Mitchell was joined by UConn Coach Jim Calhoun, President Susan Herbst, interim Athletics Director Paul Pendergast, alumnus Robert Skinner, and Bill Raftery, college basketball game analyst for ESPN and CBS, who acted as master of ceremonies.
The evening was devoted to making the case for the planned basketball practice facility, which, according to its supporters, will finally give the University’s stellar basketball program the dedicated home it deserves. The new UConn Basketball Champions Center will feature practice gyms for the men’s and women’s basketball programs, along with locker rooms, coaches’ offices and areas for academic support, video analysis, sports medicine and strength training. It will be the first major construction project at UConn to be funded entirely through private donations. The 70,000 square-foot facility is expected to cost about $35 million.
“Athletics is the front porch of a university,” President Herbst told the gathering. “It grabs the attention of the American people, then you can open the door and show them great teaching, learning and research inside.” The new facility has great importance not only on the court for UConn basketball, but also in the classroom, to maintain high levels of academic success for its student-athletes. It will advance the entire university and community going forward, according to Herbst. “It’s a hard lift for us, but with $16 million in commitments, we’re on a roll now.”
Coach Calhoun said UConn basketball would never have reached its current level of success without the alumni and friends, who have provided steadfast support throughout the years. “I tell potential new players there is no better place to play basketball,” he said. “The world of college basketball is going through dramatic change. Let’s make sure UConn basketball stays where it belongs.”
Pendergast showed photos of new facilities built by UConn rivals such as the University of Kentucky, Syracuse University and the University of Louisville. “We are a competitive bunch, academically and athletically,” he said. “It’s important for everyone to know that without this facility, we are falling behind our competition.”
Robert Skinner, a member of the UConn Foundation Board of Directors and chairman of the Athletics Campaign Steering Committee, asked for help keeping “Storrs the basketball capital of the nation.”
The project is an ambitious one, added Skinner. “In the span of just several months, we’ve moved from commitments of $7 million to $16 million. We will reach our goal.”