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THIS MONTH we’re breaking out some of our best recent coverage on basketball facilities from our archives. Whether you’re looking for inspiration for building a new collegiate-level facility, or need to consider refinishing your high school hardwood, you’ll find something to fulfill your hoop dreams below.

Basketball Practice Facility Design Addresses Athlete Needs

By Paul Steinbach

The University of Utah men's basketball program was the 1998 national championship runner-up — its lone Final Four appearance in the 32 years prior and 21 years since. That said, one could argue that in 2015 the university opened a basketball practice facility that's second to none.

The $36 million, 101,000-square-foot Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility features three players' lounges — one each for the men and women, and one that encourages comingling. There are hot and cold plunge pools not only in the training area, but just off each team's locker room. The four-story building's rooftop terrace overlooks Salt Lake City and the Jon M. Huntsman Center, where the Utes play their games, and the mountain views are truly one of a kind.

Basketball practice facilities have become the norm for doing business at the Division I level over the past decade, as a means to better accommodate student-athletes' schedules, coaches' practice philosophies, and any given program's culture.

"The genesis of these buildings is pretty easy to understand," says Nate Appleman, a senior principal at architecture firm HOK. "The arena tends to be one of the most heavily used facilities for an athletic department between the basketball programs, the volleyball programs, wrestling, gymnastics, so this type of facility really came out of the fact that that main court floor was just overtaxed from a timing standpoint. Schools began to invest in the basketball programs as a way to separate them out from the main arena floor and get them their own court to be able to practice."

"What the stand-alone facilities have done for a lot of universities — it's for coaching, it's for individual training, it's for shoot-arounds — and you don't have to have that scheduling conflict with the concerts or commencements or anything else that might happen in an arena," says Jeremy Krug, a senior associate at Populous, the firm behind the design of Utah's facility and dozens of others.

Access is key. "We love the phrase 'day in the life of the student-athlete,' " Krug says. "Well, it's kind of a mixed bag when I have to go to class or I have to go to a tutor or I have to go to the training table to eat, back to practice, watch film. When can I get that hour or 30 minutes of shoot-around? To have your own facility and your own practice gym, now it kind of works with all student-athletes' schedules. That's where you started seeing universities invest in these stand-alone facilities. What they're trying to do is get these student-athletes to a gym, to a court, to a basket so they can get in there and shoot around and work on their individual training."

What form any given facility takes is as varied as the programs themselves, with some common denominators.

"Title IX is a driver in facilities like this. What you do for the men's program you have to equivocally do for the women's program, so a lot of the time you see these facilities having a mirror image — one side for the men, one side for the women," Appleman says. "Generally, the basic program consists of a court or a court and a half or two courts that are dedicated to each of the teams, and then each team will have their own locker room, their own film room, lounge, coaches' offices and meeting rooms. Then you get into variables like is dining offered? Is equipment distribution and storage a piece of it? Are there academic opportunities that occur within the facility? How prevalent or not is sports medicine, athletic training and the weight room?"

These are all questions that inform a facility's design and ultimate functionality. But it all starts in the gym.

Court space

"When I go in to talk with a client and program the building, we basically ask the questions that are going to create the sizes of boxes," Krug says. "One of the first questions we would always ask administration is, 'Do you want a men's basketball gym and a women's basketball gym?' "

"If you ask coaches, that's what they would generally prefer, that there is a court or a court and a half dedicated to each of the programs," Appleman says. "There are instances where there's just one big gym and it's got two courts in it, and then it's just a scheduling thing between the men's and women's programs as to how they utilize it."

Utilization begs additional design drill-drown in terms of each program's gym space. "We always say designing a basketball practice facility, obviously, starts with practice and the size of your practice gym," says Krug. "How many goals do you want? A standard court is two, as we know, but sometimes you might have four on the sides, so you have a total of six. At Utah, we have a total of eight because of the way that they just want to function and have enough shoot-around and warm-up area. It becomes unique. It's basically its own design strategy right there around the practice itself."

At minimum, gyms will have one NCAA-regulation court on which to run full practices, but often that space will be complemented by two or more separate half-courts or "functional arcs," as Krug calls them, where drills can be conducted. These smaller surfaces may be oriented perpendicular to the main floor. "That's always the diagram that makes the gym volume a little bit bigger," Krug says, "but it also helps at practice if we don't have shooting guards running into each other on one basket."

When sizing court spaces, schools should also be cognizant of the facility's off-season potential. "The other question that comes up is high school camps," Krug says. "We want hundreds of kids to come through these programs, so the size of those gyms should accommodate the maximum amount of youths coming through to practice in June or July."

In addition to the courts themselves, the gym volume may accommodate ancillary elements. Says Krug, "You might have a coaches' wall off to one side that might have a TV or a whiteboard, because we don't have the time to go back into a film room or a coach's office. We'll always have satellite training, so we have rehab elements right off the practice court for injured athletes. So there's a lot that's designed around the practice court itself."

Arena feel

A primary goal of any basketball practice facility is the re-creation of arena conditions. "You want to replicate everything that you can from their home court in their arena into the practice gym," Krug says, "so we'll get all those specifications, and that way there's nothing different from me going to practice and me going to compete."

Specifying the same basketball goal models and wood floor systems in the practice facility as appear in the competition venue is typically not a challenge, and goes a long way to prepare players for the feel of their arena. A school might even put an identical scorer's table in the practice gym. But trying to match an arena's light levels and the "shooter's eye" are where things can get tricky.

"They want to re-create that environment as much as they can, but a big box, which is effectively what the gyms tend to be, is not a very good representation of what an arena feels like — with the seating going back and the center-hung scoreboard. The ceilings tend to be a lot higher in arenas than they would be in a basketball practice facility," Appleman says. "It's difficult. Even the lighting is different. Practice facilities tend to be a bit brighter because there's a desire to include natural light — certainly indirect natural light, so you want to get north light in there if you can. But a lot of schools want to bring that natural light in just to lighten up the space and just have a more pleasant environment, and arenas tend to be dark, with the lighting really focused on the court — that Staples Center effect."

Krug feels faithful lighting replication is a must. "That's one of the first questions we'll ask: 'What are the light levels in your arena, and how can we design the same for the practice gym?' " Krug says. "The paint scheme and everything else is just kind of your connection as far as where you are on the court, and it's also for recruiting — that when you walk through and sell this practice gym, it looks very similar to the arena."

Maybe it even sounds like it, too. "Acoustics is big in these practice gyms, because we might have three coaches with whistles and a lot going on, but they always ask for a sound system so that they can easily pipe in crowd noise," Krug adds. "Anything that we can do to re-create that environment of where they're going to compete only helps these student-athletes as they practice."

Duplicating depth perception, however, is the most daunting task of all. "That's the one missing piece, I would say, when trying to re-create an arena setting. It's four vertical walls, 12 feet off the baseline, and we know there's not an arena in the country that looks like that," says Krug, adding, "We've even looked at technology as far as LED boards to re-create that depth or that distraction — for instance, stepping up to shoot a free throw in front of a student section — so you're not just shooting on a vacant goal."

Player areas Practice routines are top priority, but greater emphasis than ever is now being placed on student-athlete recovery. That's why an increasing amount of square footage in dedicated basketball practice facilities is being carved out for such things as fueling stations, sleep areas and hydrotherapy. Says Appleman, "Those kinds of recovery areas are sometimes part of the player lounge, where kids can go in and put on the NormaTec boots and have that compression to help them recover from their workout."

Fueling stations in practice facilities typically stop short of a full kitchen, which is instead reserved for the economies of scale (chefs, staff), not to mention the socialization, afforded by full training tables. Fueling stations may range from a Gatorade machine right off the practice court, weight room or training room to a small snack bar "that's fruit, nuts, bagels, Gatorade, water, chocolate milk. It's just quick, easy access," Krug says. "You might have multiples of these areas that could be a hundred square feet, could be 400 square feet. It depends on the refrigerators, the sinks, the storage and everything else."

That kind of convenience is echoed in onsite sleep spaces, which may house two or more sleep pods, recliners or bunk beds, or any combination, within 300 to 400 square feet. "Sleep is a big trend right now," Krug says. "If I'm coming to one facility, I don't have to go back to my apartment or my dorm to take a nap for 20 or 30 minutes before practice."

Hydrotherapy options are now commonplace, as well. Says Krug, "We normally would have a hot and cold plunge pool, and a HydroWorx 2000. That's your underwater treadmill that basically gives injured players the ability to still condition, take all the weight off of their body depending on the depth, and it also gives them video to see how their muscles and joints might be reacting when they run."

It's all part of a new focus on student-athlete wellbeing. "When we talk about mind, body and soul of human performance, we need nutrition and we need proper sleep, and then we also need to watch film and practice," Krug says. "Essentially, these practice facilities are trying to check all of those boxes in terms of student-athlete needs, and really are trying to consolidate the time that it takes to go from one spot to the next."

Even spaces that are underutilized by comparison are no less essential to the basketball practice facility's alter ego: recruiting attraction. Appleman points to players' lounges in particular, which serve as metaphor for the bigger picture.

"We used to laugh about football facilities and the players' lounge. Everybody would complain about the fact that nobody would ever use the players' lounge," says Appleman, quickly adding, "If you didn't have one, though, you were negatively recruited against for not having one, even if nobody uses it. Basketball practice facilities are very similar in that if you don't have one, you better have a pretty damn good story to tell, a really great arena and really great exclusivity in terms of the usage of that court in order to justify not having a practice facility to show recruits. It's kind of gotten to the point where it's a must-have."

This article originally appeared in the November | December 2019 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Designing basketball practice facilities that check all the boxes." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry.

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Three Factors to a Successful Gym Floor Refinishing Project

There's no mistaking whose house you're in upon entering the gym at Lakota West High School in West Chester, Ohio. "We put this 30-foot Firebird right at midcourt, and it's the first thing you see," says Scott Kaufman, athletic director and assistant principal at West, which recently refinished its gym floor. "There's a lot of pride that goes into that."

Prepping the High School Gym for Game Night

It wasn't all that long ago that a high school gymnasium served primarily as the largest classroom on campus. During the school week, physical education was still a requisite course of study for underclassmen in most regions of the country, and sports practices jockeyed for occupancy after school hours.

Purchasing Guide: Basketball Systems

Whether you're hosting college or professional basketball in an arena setting, interscholastic games at the high school gym or a friendly game of HORSE at the local rec center, you're going to want durable basketball hoops that are appropriate for your facility. Here are a few things to consider when selecting the right basketball systems for your gymnasium.

Proper Cleaning and Maintenance for Hardwood Courts

A hardwood court is a big investment for any athletic facility. Like any big investment, organizations want to do whatever they can to take care of it. But when the people in charge of the court are unfamiliar with proper basic care, they tend to end up doing too much — or not enough. "With gym floors, there's so many misconceptions about what you're supposed to or not supposed to do because the floor is wood," says Bill Price Jr., national sport manger with Aurora, Colo.-based hardwood care specialist Bona. "The people who maintain floors have grown up with the notion that you can't put water on wood. For that reason, most gym floors get neglected. They don't get the proper maintenance because people are afraid."

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