Last week Steve Hawkins and I sat down to discuss the future of Bronco basketball, as well as host of other topics. This is the first of a three part series where Hawkins discusses the new arena project, Marcus Lowe, as well as the upcoming season. Part 1 is free, with parts two and three being premium.
Broncoblitz: Have you been in discussions with anyone about the new downtown arena?
Hawkins: Yes, I've been filled in on the arena as far as Western Michigan Basketball being a tenant and so forth. Other than that, I know basically what the public has been told. They have asked me, what I would need if this were to come to fruition.
Ideally, they go ahead and build the building, they show me the court and the arena, and at that point we decided, "Yeah we'll do it, or no we won't. But that's not going to happen. I see the benefits and I see the detriments. Either way, University Arena will be our home. That's where we'll practice, and it can't be neglected.
Broncoblitz: There are schools in the MAC that have built or are building some very nice arenas. Is that becoming a problem to recruit against, and would this arena help in that regard?
Hawkins: This is a real, real issue for us. Ever since we got done with our foreign trip I knew our next project had to be facility upgrades.
EMU's facility is not well attended, but it's brand new and impressive. Central Michigan has been given clearance for the fund raising to begin on a big renovation of their facility. NIU's place is unbelievable. In addition to their arena, under the arena is a practice facility that the players can use any time of day or night. That's a huge tool in recruiting.
Toledo's arena is as nice as it could possibly be, it's unbelievable. Buffalo just put in over a million dollars in improvements, and Bowling Green just got the okay to build a new arena. Akron, Kent, and Ohio, all put in over a million dollars for improvements. In Ohio's case they had a pretty nice arena before the upgrades.
I wouldn't trade our game night atmosphere with any arena in the MAC, but when you bring a recruit in to an empty arena they don't see that. So the things they do see, such as locker rooms, those have to be on par with other schools--those kids notice that stuff.
Broncoblitz: So from recruiting perspective, a downtown arena has some appeal to you?
Hawkins: It has appeal to me, because it has a "wow factor" to it. But even with a new arena, we still have to have to get the upgrades to UA done. Even with a downtown arena, they're still going to dress here, and they're still going to practice here. So at minimum the locker rooms have to be upgraded.
The other issue is practice time. Right now during the season we practice from 7AM until 11AM. Then Women's Basketball goes 11 to 3, and Women's Volleyball goes 3 to 6. After that it's dance and cheer team. If a player wants to come in and get extra shots, he can't do it until 9 o'clock at night. There are schools in our league that have practice facilities where they can come in at any time and shoot. It not only helps player development it helps in recruiting.
If you have a practice facility they can come in when they don't have class. If that's at two in the afternoon, they can come in and get in 200 shots. Practice facilities don't have to be fancy, they're usually as bare bones as it gets, and they're cost is fairly cheap. Practice facilities normally can be done in the one to two million dollar range. Drawings have already been done for a practice facility that would be attached to the west side of University Arena. That would include new coaches offices as well. That would have to be privately funded.
Broncoblitz: Where are schools getting the funding for these kinds of projects. Is it a Bill Brown type of donor or does it come from alums in general.
Hawkins: Normally from alums. But this is Michigan, and this is a terrible economy. Our fund raising for a new locker room was going along nicely, and then the economy took a nose dive, and now everybody's started hanging on to their money.
Broncoblitz: What are you looking at in terms of upgrades for the locker room?
Hawkins: First off, it's both the men and women's locker rooms. To do the whole project it's about a $700,000 to $850,000 dollar project. I'm an old school kind of guy. I know that a smelly old locker room is enough to put a team on the floor. However, I also want to win games, and our locker rooms are way behind what other schools in the league have.
This goes back a lot of years. Back when I was an assistant to Coach Mac, he called me one night and said, Dr. Floyd is coming over in the morning to check out our facilities. You need to be there with a list of what we need. At that time we only had one scoreboard and it was directly over your head. If time was winding down you had no idea how much time you had to shoot. So we had scoreboards put in on each end. We put in a new video editing system, which is now obsolete. But even then our locker room was in bad shape. That stuff wasn't Coach Donawald's cup of tea, and it had been neglected.
When Dr. Floyd arrived we went through and pointed out everything that needed to be done, and Dr. Floyd said, "Do it, do it all. We paid these guys to do a job, let's help them do it. These are deferred payments. These are things that should have been done a long time ago." Doctor Floyd left, and in the mean time we saw numerous improvements that needed to be done such as Lawson, two new turfs. We've (the basketball program) spent $35,000 on a new logo in the middle of our floor, and we've got summer school paid for for our players. At the time we were one of the only schools in the MAC paying for summer school so the kids could take classes and practice here in the summer. Now everyone's doing it. The locker rooms and the coaches office look exactly the same as they did 8 years ago when Dr. Floyd toured the facilities.
We'll have part two of this interview later this week.