UK basketball notebook: Rupp renovations a numbers game

Herald-Leader Staff WriterDecember 28, 2013 

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray intends to take a commonly held belief, roll it up into a ball and dunk it. Yes, Kentucky, it is possible for Rupp Arena to have chair-back seats throughout the upper level and maintain an overall capacity of 23,000.

But wouldn't chair-back seats in place of the existing bleachers in the upper level significantly reduce Rupp Arena's capacity?

Not true, said Gray, who then added with Jedi mind trick solemnity, "The more challenging the constraints, the better the results."

Planning for the re-invention of Rupp, which is part of Gray's vision to revitalize downtown Lexington, is nearing a boiling point. It shouldn't be long before we know the details of what a new Rupp Arena would look like and, more importantly, how the city expects to pay for the project.

Maintaining the capacity of 23,000 remains important to Kentucky's athletics department leaders, Gray said. So that's a must. Chair-back seats would enhance the fan experience, which is a point of emphasis for Gray.

To do both while using the solid "bones" of Rupp Arena makes for one of those "challenging constraints" Gray mentioned. Challenging, but not unsolvable, the mayor said.

"It is achievable," he said. "So if it's achievable, it's realistic."

Gray spoke of a reconstruction of the upper arena done in phases over a few years. Think Madison Square Garden, which underwent a renovation during three off-seasons while the Knicks and Rangers were idle. "Exactly," the mayor said.

In a column earlier this month, the Herald-Leader's John Clay detailed possible reasons for decreases in announced attendances in recent UK seasons. But Gray dismissed the notion of downsizing Rupp's capacity as UK plans to do with Commonwealth Stadium.

UK wants Rupp's capacity of 23,000 maintained. And Gray wants chair-back seats throughout Rupp.

UNC to renovate?

North Carolina Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham told The News & Observer recently that the school is considering building a new basketball arena or renovating the Dean Smith Center.

Cunningham said the Smith Center "has been fabulous for 27 years." But to do "due diligence" means you explore the idea of renovating the facility or building a new arena.

UNC has spoken with the Kansas City-based 360 Architecture, a firm that's worked on several sports arenas and stadiums, the Raleigh, N.C., newspaper reported. Cunningham termed the discussions as "preliminary in nature" and a first step in determining possible designs and economic feasibility.

For those paying attention to the talk of a renovated Rupp Arena, it all sounds familiar.

Cunningham told The News & Observer that the primary purpose of renovating the Smith Center would be to add "revenue generators." That is to say, luxury suites, club seating or both.

When Rupp Arena and the Smith Center opened in 1976 and 1986, respectively, such amenities were not yet common in basketball arenas.

The challenge of renovating the Smith Center would involve how luxury seating fit into the building, and how it would affect capacity (21,750), the Raleigh newspaper noted.

As with UK and a renovated Rupp Arena, North Carolina would plan for its renovation not to disrupt the basketball season. And like UK, the Tar Heels would not temporarily play in another arena, Cunningham said.

As for the all-important question of how to pay for a renovation or new arena, Cunningham said funding would come from donations and athletic department revenue.

Indiana to renovate?

If you missed it, Indianapolis philanthropist Cindy Simon Skjodt donated $40 million to Indiana to renovate Assembly Hall.

IU President Michael McRobbie said the basketball home court would be renamed the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall once renovations are complete as early as 2016.

Assembly Hall is 42 years old. The renovation will include revenue-generating box seats, a new south entryway, a state-of-the-art video scoreboard, escalators and remodeled restrooms and concession stands.

Skjodt's donation, the largest in Indiana athletics history, is part of a $150 million athletics capital campaign.

Rivalries

UK women's soccer coach Jon Lipsitz is a fan of rivalries. Win or lose, he looked forward to the scene at the UK-U of L game Saturday.

Lipsitz has attended a Michigan-Ohio State football game, a North Carolina-Duke basketball game and a Stanford-Cal football game.

"I would love to go to an Alabama-Auburn (football) game," he said. "Anything that creates that unbelievable passion for people, I think it's really, really special."

Lipsitz grew up on the UNC campus. His father, Lou Lipsitz, taught political science.

"I'll never forget holding Walter Davis' gold medal after the Olympics," he said of a childhood memory.

The full impact of rivalries and the power of athletics hit Lipsitz when he came to UK.

"It took me 10 minutes at the first home game to go, 'Wow, this is just different,'" he said.

'Great for sports'

Never mind mere winning or losing. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas noted how games like Kentucky-Louisville are "great for sports." Talented players. Good coaching. Traditional programs. What's not to love?

"You want to watch the best teams play," he said. "Auburn-Alabama, my whole family watched that game, and we don't have a whole lot of football fans in our family. We watch basketball. And we were riveted by it.

"And I think a lot of people will be riveted by the Kentucky-Louisville game."

Change of plans

Marcus Lee's family originally envisioned him having an entirely different college career.

"Our plan was for him to go to St. Mary's," brother Bryan Lee said. "Go to college four years, then get a master's (degree)."

Lee literally outgrew that plan.

"It's nice Julius (Randle) has got his body together," Bryan Lee said. "It's going to take Marcus a few years till he gets to 235 or 240. And we understand that."

Rather than Kentucky representing a fast-track to the NBA, the older Lee brother said UK was the college choice because it presented the best testing ground.

"Kentucky was the toughest situation for him to go into," Bryan Lee said. "We're not looking to make this easy."

Following up

As UK's double-team smothered Tim Duncan in the 1996 NCAA Tournament, then Wake Forest Coach Dave Odom received a technical foul for protesting.

"Are you going to let them push him all night?" Odom recalled saying to a referee who passed by the Wake Forest bench.

Odom still thinks the technical foul was an over-reaction by the referee.

"I wasn't blowing the guy out," he said. "I was even kneeling when he came by, so I wasn't showing him up."

That's not the end of the story.

The technical foul so irked Odom that he returned to Winston-Salem on a mission.

"I worked extremely hard Monday to make sure that guy didn't go anywhere," he said, meaning he worked to make sure the referee did not get a Final Four assignment. "He didn't go anywhere, and I know he knew I was the reason.

"I promise you the rest of my coaching career, every time I had him he was very, very nice to me."

Odom did not say which referee hit him with the technical.

The referees working that Kentucky-Wake Forest game were Jim Burr, John Cahill and Dan Chrisman.

Peaceful co-existence

Dave Odom noted how well Ricky Peral worked with Tim Duncan on the Wake Forest team of 1995-96. Stationed at the foul line, Peral effectively fed Duncan the ball in the low post.

With his coaching eye, Odom saw UK still working to maximize Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein as a tandem.

"They're still trying to figure out how the two can coexist in there without one crowding out the other," he said.

Never give up

Dave Odom is still not conceding that Kentucky was the nation's best team in 1995-96. He noted that Wake Forest played UK without its point guard, Tony Rutland, who torn an anterior cruciate ligament in the ACC Tournament earlier that month.

Rutland finished his four-year college career 19th on Wake Forest's career scoring list with 1,274 points. He ranked second with 248 three-point baskets.

"I don't care what they did," Odom said of UK neutralizing Tim Duncan with double teams. "I'd love to play that game again if we had (Rutland)."

Rupp story No. 78,569,224

Tom Mattingly, who goes by the title "The Vol Historian," did a recent blog that touched on the Kentucky-Tennessee rivalry.

The inspiration for the blog was Gus Manning, long-time staffer in UT's athletics department.

"Gus Manning has always been known for his legendary stories, no matter the sport," Mattingly wrote. "... All you have to do is get him started, and here come the stories.

"Apparently, Adolph Rupp was not too impressed with the lighting at the old Alumni Memorial Gym.

"Bob Neyland sent Gus to a Kentucky practice before a long-ago game just to make sure everything was all right.

"Rupp is alleged to have said, 'Gus, if I had known it was going to be this dark, I would have stopped in Harlan and gotten miner's lights.'"

Happy birthday

To Oklahoma State Coach Travis Ford. The ex-Cat turns 44 on Sunday. ... To Aminu Timberlake. He turns 41 on New Year's Day. ... To Eloy Vargas. He turns 25 on Monday. ... To Nolan Richardson. The former Arkansas coach turned 72 on Friday. ... To Kansas Coach Bill Self. He turned 51 on Friday.

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

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