Randy York's N-Sider
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For a man who's traditionally known as being conservative, the Hendricks Training Complex showcases Tom Osborne's progressive side as Nebraska's newest facility welcomed three first-day tenants Friday - Nebraska men's basketball, Husker women's basketball and NU Wrestling.
Nebraska donors got the first glimpse of what most believe to be the standard by which future basketball practice facilities will be measured. Ticketholders, boosters, letterwinners and staff members were the next group to view the Hendricks Training Complex that carries the signature of Bus Whitehead on its men's court and a players' lounge that looks like Steven Spielberg designed - an electronic oasis that can amp you up like an amusement park or lull you to sleep like a lullaby, depending on whatever you want to watch, listen to, sit on, lay on or play on.
But let's be clear about one thing before we describe our self-guided tour after Thursday night's ribbon-cutting ceremony: This new, nearly $19 million building that NU coaches and officials rank higher than benchmarks that cost up to $11 million more, is definitive proof that Nebraska is totally committed to basketball. The Huskers are all in on hoops, not just talking about it anymore. This new practice facility has earmarks reminiscent of amenities you would find at an expensive hotel, and it will become the foundation that will anchor Nebraska's next big move to the West Haymarket Arena in 2013.
"When Coach Osborne came here a few years ago, everyone knew what he did as a football coach," Nebraska Basketball Coach Doc Sadler told donors. "But when he leaves as an athletic director, I think this (building) is the mark he's going to leave on Nebraska Athletics because it's not just football. He's helped more than 600 student-athletes every year achieve the greatest level they could possibly achieve. There are not many people who can say that. When you walk through here tonight and when you walk through the facilities that we're going to build in the years to come, Nebraska is Nebraska because of what you all have done."
Student-Life Complex, Basketball Growth Top Priorities
Donors have responded well to Osborne's vision and leadership, both of which go well beyond football. Restore order on the gridiron was an obvious first priority. But when you own a doctorate in educational psychology and have been a three-term Congressman, you tend to seek broader strategic ground.
First, you envision, plan and then build a Student-Life Complex to replace one that was built to accommodate half as many students nearly three decades ago. Secondly, you analyze the college basketball world, learn what it will take to compete in it and then build a practice facility you think will be second to none because you will soon play in a leading-edge arena that also will have few collegiate peers.
"This was the next thing that had to happen to put basketball and wrestling on par with everyone else," Osborne said, explaining later that a fiscally sound balance sheet he inherited from his predecessor enabled him to chart the course to make Nebraska ultra-competitive beyond football. "To show people you're really serious and to show the better recruits around the country that this is a place that's really investing in basketball, a state-of-the-art facility is really important because we have some tradition, but we don't have great tradition to draw on in basketball. Football's a little different. Kids know where you're from and what you're doing.
"I wouldn't want to take particular credit for this," Osborne said, "because we were able to put money away and get help from great donors, great planners, great architects and great construction people. Our own people then put the creative touches on everything that differentiates us from other similar facilities. This really came out nicer than I thought it would. I thought we got tremendous bang for our buck."
Now's a perfect time to enumerate some amenities that await players inside the training complex, but first a small warning: Some will sound extreme, but if any knock the socks off a talented recruit like they did mine, consider that money well spent.
iPads, Streaming Shower Music and a Grand Entrance
"This place is loaded with cool stuff," John Ingram said before delineating his favorites that were brainstormed, considered, evaluated and facilitated by either him or Maggi Thorne, the one-time Nebraska track athlete who Osborne said "took about two days off" to have a third baby in the midst of this crucial construction project.
Osborne, Sadler, wrestling coach Mark Manning, women's associate head basketball coach Sunny Smallwood and senior guard Kaitlyn Burke, the president of Nebraska's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, all praised Ingram and Thorne for their innovative contributions to the Hendricks Training Complex. On my self-guided tour, I noticed:
- An iPad in every locker
- The ability to stream personal music into individual showers
- A 5,500-pound granite basketball sculpture in the main lobby
- Video displays in front of you, behind you and to both sides of you
- An interactive basketball hallway, using technology so slick that white basketballs sense when you walk in and turn red as you pass by
I learned why the South entrance is designed for student-athletes to come in, get comfortable and be productive in their home-away-from-home. "We set up our facilities with our athletes' best interests in mind," Ingram said. "At Nebraska, we know they have time-sensitive constraints, so right next to the parking lot, when they come into the door, there's an oasis lounge, where they can check their email, make a nutritious shake, go lift weights or head straight to their locker room and get ready for practice. The adjacencies are all built into this facility for time and efficiency."
Anyone who's been inside Nebraska's 1Osborne Athletic Complex knows what makes it a model for others - central adjacencies that make practice, studying, meeting and relaxing a seamless experience that maximizes time and reduces stress. "At Nebraska, we have great local contractors that care about Nebraska," Ingram said. "They help us keep the costs down and the quality way up."
No wonder Osborne was more than willing to get so much extra bounce in this state-of-the-art basketball practice facility. "I just felt like we had to do this if we're going to be competitive," he said. "It's great for recruiting because this is where basketball players and wrestlers are going to spend most of their time. Sometimes, people look at an arena, but players and coaches are only there 15 games a year. This is where you are everyday. It's kind of where you live a good part of the time, so this is a place with all the sound equipment and all the bells and whistles. I just hope we get our kids out to class."
Impact on Performance Will Take Three to Five Years
Players I asked Thursday night saw no problems there. In fact, they see their new home - which is both a commitment and a statement of how serious Nebraska is about basketball - as a challenge to move from good to very good and start paving the highway to great. Osborne knows success never happens overnight and says the impact on overall performance will take three to five years to measure fully.
Sadler embraces having what he considers the country's best practice facility and whatever increased expectations come with it. "Everyone will be coming to Nebraska to look at this facility," he said. "They'll want to see what they need to do."
Being a trailblazer, of course, requires commitment and hard work to deliver results based on higher expectations.
"We have all the bells and whistles we need," senior guard Caleb Walker said. "There are so many great things, I can't single out which one's best. My favorite is the court itself. I have to say that because now that we don't have to share a court anymore, we have all the access we need. That's what gives us the best chance to get better. It's going to be great for recruiting, but it's also going to be great for us already here. This is a real blessing."
A blessing based on one man's vision, his leadership and the commitment he galvanized to help make Nebraska a basketball school as well as a football school.
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Voices from Husker Nation
Great job on this article and a great subject. Mr. Osborne really gets it, and you showed that well! I was NU's heavyweight wrestler back in the early '70s, and I played some football as a freshman. Enjoyed the read. Jeff Class, Ontario, California
I have a friend who's a season ticketholder and saw the new facility over the weekend. He said you have to see it to believe it. He couldn't have been more impressed. I agree with Coach Osborne that to be the best, you have to think like the best and when you have a history with the kind of holes we have in hoops, it makes sense to change the paradigm and try to recruit the best players out there. I'm thinking it might be getting close to the right time to jump on the bandwagon. Name withheld by request