Memphis men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith stood under the veranda of the building housing his new office, between a 7,300-square foot lobby filled with reminders of the program’s history and seven large pillars surrounding the entranceway.
It reminded him of another Memphis landmark.
“This is going to be a focus point … especially for fans that are coming to Memphis,” Smith said. “It’s sort of like Graceland.”
University of Memphis President M. David Rudd explains the impact the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center will have for the Tigers’ men’s basketball program.
Mark Giannotto/The Commercial Appeal
The University of Memphis unveiled the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center on Friday morning during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the school’s Park Avenue campus. It featured Smith, school President Dr. M. David Rudd, Athletic Director Tom Bowen, and former Tiger basketball player Bill Laurie and his wife, Nancy Walton Laurie.
Laurie and his wife are the namesakes of the building because they donated a school record $10 million to help finance the construction. The approximately 62,000-square- foot structure cost more than $20.5 million and features palatial architecture and state-of-the-art amenities.
Rudd said he hopes its completion shows the nation that “we have the capacity to compete at the highest levels.”
“I certainly have had high expectations, but after just walking through this facility, I’m stunned at the quality and how nice this is,” he added.
What’s inside the new practice facility?
Among the luxuries are a theater-style film room, several lounges with flat-screen televisions, an academic center that will be used by multiple Memphis athletic teams and four high-definition cameras around the 14,000-square-foot practice court that can isolate on an individual player.
There is also 5,000 square feet of interior glass, a 3,250-square-foot weight room that is two stories tall and a hydrotherapy training room highlighted by a cold tub, a hot tub and an underwater treadmill.
The entire facility is equipped with top-of-the-line technological equipment, from a bioscan thumbprint reader to secure entrances to audio and video capabilities that will allow players to play music from their smartphones throughout the building.
A quick tour of what a Memphis basketball player will encounter when he walks into the team’s new practice facility starting in October.
Mark Giannotto/The Commercial Appeal
The lobby, meanwhile, will double as an interactive museum that school administrators have dubbed the “Hall of Traditions.” It features large photographs, graphics and memorabilia of the program’s all-time greats, such as Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and Keith Lee.
The Hall of Traditions will eventually be open to the public, and the school is holding an open house on Jan. 23 from 3 to 5 p.m. for all Memphians to see the new facility.
“The Hall of traditions really brings everything together, the past, present and whatever your future can be,” Bowen said. “We don’t really have a place to celebrate it because we don’t have our own arena. This is a really next-generational opportunity to let people celebrate and share.”
What does the facility mean for Memphis?
Friday’s ribbon cutting ceremony was attended by past Memphis basketball standouts such as Hank McDowell, Marcus Moody, Elliot Perry and Jon Wilfong. Murray Bartow, the son of former Tigers’ coach Gene Bartow, also was there.
Bill Laurie made sure to thank Gene Bartow when speaking to the assembled crowd and noted that the 1972-73 Final Four team he played on “built the foundation of this building.”
“You don’t build a building to build a program,” he added. “You have a program that over many years of winning, (including) multiple Final Fours, and then you deserve the building.”
The men’s basketball team is expected to move in and begin using the facility starting next month. The Tigers currently practice at the Larry O. Finch Center, which opened in 2000 at a cost of approximately $3.2 million and is about half the size of this new building.
Smith and point guard Jeremiah Martin both noted it will be a boon for the current players to have their practice court and the coaches’ offices in the same place moving forward.
At the moment, Smith and his staff are based out of the Athletic Office Building that is situated about a quarter of a mile away from the Finch Center.
“This building is amazing,” Martin said. “We been hearing about it for quite some time … but it’s actually even better when you come in and be able to see what it actually looks like and tour the building. The locker room has so many things. You have a video game area, a lounge, a sleep area, theater, so everybody can just spend more time together.”
Smith not ‘disappointed’ by 2018 recruiting
During his remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Smith said the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center “already helped in recruiting.” But the Tigers are coming off an early signing period in which they signed just one player (7-foot-4 center Connor Vanover) for the 2018 recruiting class.
Memphis saw top target Robert Woodard commit to Mississippi State, while point guard recruit Tyler Harris of Cordova elected not to make a college decision. East point guard Alex Lomax, who had been the Tigers’ top priority throughout the spring and summer, also committed to Wichita State last week.
Smith was asked Friday whether he was disappointed in this outcome.
“I’m never disappointed,” Smith answered. “I’ve never lost anything I’ve never had. We’d love to have had those young men, but probably going to be better opportunities for others.”
Assistant coaches Joe Esposito and Alvin “Pooh” Williamson did not attend Friday’s ceremony and Smith mentioned that they were out of town on recruiting trips. The Tigers still have two available scholarships to use for next season.