By Javier Hernandez
At the height of Nevada basketball, the Wolf Pack went to three straight NCAA tournaments highlighted by a Sweet 16 appearance in 2004. At the time, for a mid-major program to have its own exclusive practice facility was a luxury. In today’s day and age, facilities have become a necessity in order to stay competitive with the major powers of college athletics. For a long time the construction of a practice facility has been a priority for the Nevada basketball program; however, due to a hefty donation by Wolf Pack alumnus Ramon Sessions, in combination with private booster support, the Wolf Pack can now obtain this necessity.
This Tuesday Athletic Director Doug Knuth officially announced the plans for the Ramon Sessions Basketball Performance Center. The Performance center will primarily serve as a dedicated facility for both the men’s and women’s basketball programs, providing year-round court space for both. It will include two full-size courts with eight hoops, a new scoreboard, a new multisport strength and conditioning center and gym, and training tables. It will also include new locker rooms for both basketball programs as well as locker rooms for sports that do not currently have any.
Former Nevada basketball standout point guard Ramon Sessions donated $1 million toward the $2.5 million privately funded project. According to Knuth, this is the largest private gift a former student athlete has ever donated. In 2015, Sessions and Knuth were in advanced discussions of completing his donation. Sessions, who has stayed involved in the Reno community, hosting yearly youth basketball camps for the past decade, wanted to make sure he had the support of the community before committing to his donation.
This summer the rest of the $1.5 million was raised by private donors, reciprocating Sessions’ goodwill.
“For me, giving back to the University of Nevada means a lot,” Sessions said. “I’m blessed to give back to my second home. I’m excited about it. I know the coaches are excited about it. And once this gets going, I know the community will be excited about it.”
Head Trainer Matt Eck, who has been with the program since the Trent Johnson era, believes this facility will be a game-changer.
“For coaches to showcase these pieces is a huge piece to our growth as an athletic department and as a member of the Mountain West and where we stand in the Mountain West compared to our counterparts,” Eck said. “Regarding having the best facilities in the Mountain West, we will be the most efficient in utilizing the resources that we have.”
In today’s college-athletics environment, it is critical to have around-the-clock access to facilities and staff. Eck believes this project will afford them that necessity. With the new facility, the various sports at UNR will have another building they can utilize for their training needs so that teams won’t have to struggle over scheduling matters.
“From 5:45 a.m. to 7 p.m. it’s pretty well-slammed. We have to space everything we do out and try to accommodate our teams as much as we can with as many eyes and as many coaches as we can,” Eck said. “Our facilities have outgrown the needs and demands of our teams over the past 15 years. Now we don’t have to stress over scheduling.”
Both coach Musselman and coach Albright were ecstatic about the announcement of the new Performance Center.
“To have a top-flight program we need what’s coming,” Musselman said. “This is humongous.”
The men’s team has had to practice in three locations in three days — including at the local Boys & Girls Club and Reno High School — due to renovations to the scoreboard at Lawlor Events Center. He believes this facility will not only benefit them in day-to-day operations but will also be beneficial in recruiting.
“There’s no reason now why we cannot recruit with the top programs in the country,” Musselman said. “There’s no excuses. We have what we need.”
On the other hand, Albright has been vocal about the need to increase the amount of hoops during practices. Lawlor currently has two regulation-size hoops and recently added a third hoop for practice purposes.
“On practice day, the majority of the time we have had two baskets, and it’s just hard,” Albright said.
With the completion of the new facility, she believes this will “change the scope of what we will do here.”
This facility has been a collaborative effort by the community and is a culmination of planning and opportunity. Preliminary plans from a decade ago estimated the facility to cost around $15 to $20 million. However, due to the opening of the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center next fall, space has been freed up at the Lombardi Recreation Center. Instead of having to build a standalone facility, the new plan allows them to make use of this vacant space, thus drastically decreasing the cost of the project because no new infrastructure needs to be built. In conjunction with Sessions’ initiative, this new projected cost has allowed for donors to commit to a more feasible goal.
Tuesday was a victory for Nevada basketball. As it prepares for another season coming off the heels of a CBI championship, the team will no longer need to bounce around for practice. For them, the Ramon Sessions Basketball Performance Center will satisfy the facility needs of the program for the foreseeable future.
For Knuth, the completion of the project allows him to cross it off his never-ending to-do list.
“There’s a lot of things to do here. There’s a lot of things to check off the list. Like I said before, the momentum is here. People are excited about where we’re going and the direction that we’re going,” Knuth said. “We have great people involved. And so that’s the thing that gets people excited. So when you bring a new project, and you say, ‘Here’s the next thing we want to get done,’ people are saying yes. People are getting excited. We have more projects coming. There’s no shortage of that. And frankly, it doesn’t matter where you are.
“It doesn’t matter what school or university or team you’re from. There’s always something that you’re trying to improve. And that’s just the competitiveness of athletics. And we’re playing catch-up in a lot of ways, but we’re gonna get there.”
Javier Hernandez can be reached at 0neil2sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.