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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Jefferson honored in athletics’ new practice gym

    From left, president of the University of Arizona Foundation James Moore, former UA mens basketball player Richard Jefferson and UA Athletic Director Jim Livengood cut the ceremonial ribbon dedicating the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium on Monday evening.
    From left, president of the University of Arizona Foundation James Moore, former UA men’s basketball player Richard Jefferson and UA Athletic Director Jim Livengood cut the ceremonial ribbon dedicating the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium on Monday evening.

    Richard Jefferson’s $3.5 million donation to the UA’s new athletics facility provides coaches and athletes a wealth of new assets – from expanded practice space to an advantage in recruiting.

    Believed to be the largest amount ever given by a current professional athlete to his alma mater, it also puts Jefferson one step ahead of his friendly competitor and former Wildcat teammate, Gilbert Arenas.

    “”I joke a lot that my main reason (for the donation) was so Gilbert Arenas’ name wouldn’t be on this (building). I know I said it, but I really meant that,”” Jefferson said with a smile at Monday’s ceremony honoring the official ribbon cutting.

    UA officials, donors, coaches and athletes honored Jefferson, now an eight-year NBA veteran, with a formal dedication reception at the newly finished Richard Jefferson Gymnasium and Kasser Family Pool.

    Both UA’s new athletics facilities come part of Campaign Arizona Phase II, a $31.5 million renovation process that also includes a brand new promenade walkway adjacent to McKale Center, connecting both new buildings with the UA’s main athletics headquarters.

    University boosters and donors have pledged a total of $24.5 million to the ongoing fundraising.

    “”When Richard said he did this because he wanted to beat Gilbert to the punch, he meant that,”” said Lute Olson at the event – his first public appearance since retiring in October.

    “”It’s really been needed for a long time, and to see Richard step up like he did and the other donors to do this is really critical,”” Olson added. “”I’m just happy to be here, to celebrate with all the donors, and especially with Richard for him stepping up big time.””

    The 20,000-square foot Richard Jefferson Gymnasium provides enough room for either four basketball courts or five volleyball cross courts, with the ability to separate the main courts with drop-down nets.

    Prior to the Jefferson Gymnasium’s opening this year, four teams were forced to share McKale Center. The UA men’s basketball, women’s basketball, volleyball and gymnastics squads alternated practice and game schedules to accommodate each other.

    “”It was a difficult scheduling situation, but it wasn’t ideal,”” said UA volleyball head coach David Rubio. “”Now it’s pretty ideal for everybody. You really, in my mind, couldn’t ask for a better situation having a facility that provides us the opportunity to really meet the needs that we have.””

    Added first-year UA women’s basketball head coach Niya Butts: “”That makes it a lot easier in term of times and space.””

    Now with more available practice space, those teams can comfortably practice without having to sacrifice 2 p.m. practice slots for 4:30 p.m. – an unfavorably late time, said former UA men’s basketball associate head coach Jim Rosborough.

    Back in 2004 at the Raleigh, N.C., NCAA tournament region, the Wildcats practiced in NC State’s comparable facility. Olson left the building impressed with the dedicated practice space.

    “”We walked out there, and Lute said, ‘God we gotta get one of those,'”” Rosborough said.

    Added Jefferson: “”Of course I wish I had it. We definitely needed this. I’m just glad to be able to be one of the people to help bring this here.””

    Jefferson, who averaged 11.2 points and 5.0 rebounds from 1998-2001 with the UA, spent many hot Tucson summers playing basketball in the outdated and non-air-conditioned Bear Down Gymnasium during his tenure at Arizona.

    “”Oh God, those are terrible gyms,”” Jefferson joked.

    Monday evening’s ceremonies also honored the Kasser Family Pool, a state-of-the-art diving well that enables the UA to host national diving meets.

    UA men’s and women’s swimming coach Frank Busch called his new two 1-meter and three 3-meter springboards world-class facilities. Busch won the 2008 NCAA national championship with both his swimming squads.

    Michael Kasser, president of the real estate-based Holualoa Companies, is a lifelong supporter of both UA athletics and academics.

    “”This is a great day for student-athletes, men and women, and I am very proud of former student-athlete Richard Jefferson, who gives back to his alma mater is such a meaningful way. And we are forever grateful to Mike Kasser and the Kasser Family for their continued support of Arizona Athletics,”” said UA President Robert Shelton in a release, as he was absent from the ceremony.

    Kasser began the ceremony by cutting the ribbon on the new diving well. Wildcat Club boosters and donors followed the new promenade, lined by an applauding group of respective student-athletes, into the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium.

    From there, Brian Jeffries, the voice of the Wildcats, introduced the ceremony’s speakers: Jim Livengood, UA athletic director; Joel Valdez, UA senior vice-president for business affairs; Kasser and Jefferson.

    The formal sit-down buffet dinner also included thank-you speeches from current UA athletes Fendi Onobun, men’s basketball; Paige Weber, volleyball; and Sarah Hayes, women’s basketball.

    UA Class of 1981 alumnus Clint Brenchenridge, leading architect for the Jefferson Gymnasium and former track letter-winner, also spoke highly of his final product, which about 70,000 commuters drive by each day on Campbell Ave., he estimated.

    “”It’s fun to be able to think of this building, where it goes on campus and how important it is,”” Brenchenridge said. “”When you’re a student, you don’t think about these things, but 30 years later when you’re participating in something like this – it’s really, really cool.””

    Not only does the Jefferson Gymnasium and Kasser Family Pool free up potential schedule knots and issues, but coaches also believe it’s a facility that they can sell to potential recruits.

    And in today’s era of basketball programs – in which men’s interim head coach Russ Pennell and women’s first-year head coach Niya Butts attempt to build their respective programs – on-campus facilities and development remain a crucial asset.

    “”A lot of schools across the country are starting to get them. It gives you the edge,”” Butts said. “”They know that there is going to be a place where they develop their game and get better.

    “”Nowadays, as much as we don’t like it, a lot of these things are about resources and the material things – kids like to see this,”” Butts added. “”They are looking at ‘OK, do you have what I just saw.’ It’s a great, great facility.””

    Added Livengood: “”Obviously it’s a huge part. Student athletes want to see that you’re making commitment to do things. What we’re trying to do is making sure it’s first class and it fits with our program here.””

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