CHAMPAIGN — The Ubben Basketball Complex was a cutting-edge facility when it first opened its doors in the late ’90s, but while it was ahead in the arms race then, it was in major need of upgrades and expansion more than two decades later.
On Thursday, Illinois AD Josh Whitman hosted a media tour of the newly-renovated home base for Illinois men’s and women’s basketball. The athletic department has raised around $34 million of the $40 million cost, and they have full intentions of recouping the rest through fundraising as well.
The building nearly doubled in square footage, while expanding the practice courts, the coaches’ offices and more. Whitman said the player locker rooms, the training room and the weight room all at least tripled in size — making each one a top-two or three area in the country in terms of size and scale across the college basketball landscape.
Ubben also hosts a sizable player lounge, which will feature pool tables, ping pong tables and gaming systems just like the Smith Center. The training area has a brand new hot and cold tub, along with an underwater treadmill in between them.
The Illini are especially proud of what they’re still putting together on the recovery side. They placed a heavy emphasis on separating themselves on this area.
“Today, the real science is around recovery,” Whitman said. “People are starting to understand much better how the body recovers, things we can do proactively to create a better environment for the body to recover. To allow it to go out and work at a high level again.”
Ubben’s recovery lounge is still under construction, but it will include a hyperbaric chamber, a cryotherapy chamber, an infrared sauna, zero gravity chairs and NormaTec boots.
“There are some facilities around the country that may have one or two of those components. We’re not aware of anybody that has all of those things in one place,” Whitman said. “So, we see that as a major differentiating factor for us.”
The tour concluded with a walk through the coaches’ offices on the men’s side. As staffs have expanded over the years, the Illini have been in desperate need of more space. They now have a conference room where they can all meet, rather than going out in the hallway.
In Brad Underwood‘s office, there’s a 98-inch TV on the wall with plenty of seating space. Underwood said it was really important to him to have a comfortable, in-house space where he could have intimate final meetings with recruits and their families. Before these renovations, the Illini would rent out a spot at the iHotel to conduct their final sit-downs on visits.
With all of these upgrades, it gives Underwood & Co. even more of a shot in the arm on the recruiting front.
“I think some people do the bells and whistles and they’re pretty obnoxious. They look good and they sound good and it’s all they are, but they’re of no substance,” Underwood said. “I think we’ve got enough of the bells and whistles and it looks perfect, but it’s just the right mix and this is a basketball facility. You come to Illinois, we’re going to help you get better. You can do that in this facility.”
From very early on in his tenure, Underwood knew that significant advancements were necessary for Illinois basketball to have the appeal they wanted with recruits.
“It’s one of the big pushes I had,” he said. “We weren’t winning and we didn’t have anything sexy in terms of facilities, in comparison to the people we were recruiting against. Now, it’s pretty good. Good luck beating us.”
On the women’s side, this could play a big role in giving the program some needed appeal. New head coach Shauna Green told Illini Inquirer that seeing the plans for Ubben helped convince her that Illinois was the right move and that she could be successful here.
“This was a huge piece, actually,” Green said. “Knowing, like Brad just alluded to, when you haven’t had past success and you don’t have a facility to sell, I don’t think it’s going to be a good position to be in. This was a huge, huge reason why I took this job because I knew we had something to sell. It’s already made an immediate impact with our recruits when we bring them in here.”
The men’s side hopes it has the same effect on the players they’re bringing in this weekend. 2024 commit Morez Johnson will begin his official visit on Friday, while some other talented targets will join him in Champaign on Saturday for unofficials.