Kentucky adds championship flair, floor to renovated locker room

jtipton@herald-leader.comSeptember 12, 2012 

Kentucky basketball made interior decoration its message of the day Wednesday as the program formally announced that a portion of the 2012 Final Four court will be part of the reconstruction of its Rupp Arena locker room.

After a photo op (a cargo truck carrying part of the floor pulled into the Rupp Arena bowl), UK Coach John Calipari helped introduce the idea of the floor serving two purposes: A distinctive decorative touch and a fund-raising tool.

More than 3,000 square feet of the floor — which is about half — will be installed in UK's locker room as part of a $3 million redesign. As part of the plan, the center court piece will set in the middle of UK's new circular area housing players' lockers. Plus, a free-throw lane from the court in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will lay in the entrance to the UK locker room area.

Dan Rivers, a managing partner for Northwestern Mutual, announced that the rest of the court will be split into pieces and sold in an upcoming online auction intended to raise money for Kentucky-based charities. In particular, he noted how funds would go toward a cure for pediatric cancer. The insurance company bought the court from its builder, Connor Sports Flooring, and donated it to UK.

As with any decoration, color schemes play a key role. That's where UK and Rupp Arena officials face a quandary.

The floor in the Superdome had pale green in its center court logo and in the half-moon area between the foul line and top of the key. Should these areas be repainted blue? Or should the court's original colors be preserved in a nod to historic accuracy?

Bill Owen, the CEO and president of Lexington Center Corp., said that Calipari has been part of ongoing discussions about the green portions of the court. He also noted the "sizable expense and decorating scheme" in the locker room that, of course, has blue as its dominant color.

Whatever color prevails, the $3 million project will almost triple the size of UK's locker room. It will go from about 2,000 square feet to about 6,000, Owen said. The larger area will include a tiered theatre for players to watch video, a lounge/entertainment space and the circular locker room.

"NBA-ish," Calipari told a group of Northwestern Mutual employees before giving them a tour of the Rupp Arena reconstruction project. At this early stage, the project area (which covers about 15,000 square feet) looks skeletal. Flooring, ceilings and drywall are not yet in place. Eventually, the project will include a revamped area for K Fund donors that features a glass wall giving deep-pocketed fans a view of UK players as they walk down a hallway connecting the locker room and a tunnel leading onto the Rupp Arena court.

Other locker rooms for visiting teams and referees will be revamped. But the UK locker room is the crown jewel. The reconstruction will include decorative pieces adorning the hallway and Final Four photographs near the entrance that mesh with the free-throw lane. "Almost interactive," Calipari called it. "... I'm not sure I've ever heard of another locker room doing something (similar)."

Then, the UK coach added, "It seems here at Kentucky we do a lot of things that have never been done."

National championship teams routinely buy Final Four courts, said Lauren Gillian, a marketing director for Connor Sports Flooring. He said his company has made the Final Four courts the past 12 years. When asked how often the champion buys the court, Gillian said, "90 percent of the time." Each school is free to use the floor as it chooses.

Florida installed the 2006 Final Four court in its O'Connell Center, spokesman Denver Parler wrote in an email. Florida broke the 2007 Final Four court into pieces that hang on the wall of its practice facility, Parler added.

Michigan State uses the 2000 Final Four court in its Breslin Center, spokesman Matt Larson wrote in an email.

Rivers declined to say how much Northwestern Mutual paid for the 2012 court.

Gillian said a "ballpark" estimate of the cost would be from $100,000 to $125,000.

UK and Northwestern Mutual hope the online auction, which will feature pieces of the court autographed by Calipari, can generate a much larger dollar total for charity.

Twin Towers II?

When asked about UK's team this coming season, Calipari said he'd like to talk to one of his predecessors, Joe B. Hall, about playing a lineup that includes two big men. Of course, Hall's 1978 national championship team included Rick Robey and Mike Phillips as Twin Towers.

"But be fast," Calipari said in adding a qualifier. "I don't want to give away our speed and what we do.

"But I'd like to play two 'bigs' at one time."

UK's big men this season include two freshmen, 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein and 6-10 Nerlens Noel, plus 6-10 sophomore Kyle Wiltjer.

Calipari made reference to the tough act to follow coming off a national championship when he said, "We're not going to be as good as we were a year ago."

Then he added, "But I'm happy with the way the players are working."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com.Twitter: @JerryTipton.Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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