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University of Utah breaks ground on new basketball practice facility

SALT LAKE CITY — When Larry Krystkowiak was hired as the men's basketball coach at the University of Utah in the spring of 2011, he felt everything was in place to return the program to national prominence except one element: there was no basketball-specific facility for his team to be able to practice and train in.

That’s about to change.

At a ceremony Monday, ground was broken on the Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Center, a state-of-the-art facility that will house both the men’s and women’s teams.

“It’s not a facility that’s gonna keep us up with the Pac-12, and I’ve said that from the beginning,” Krystkowiak said. “We don’t want to build a new facility that tries to keep up with the rest of the league. I truly believe, and when you see the pictures and when you see the finished product, it’s gonna set the bar for the Pac-12.”

The 80,000-square-foot center will be located just northwest of the 15,000-seat arena bearing Jon Huntsman’s name. As part of the project, renovations to that building are underway. In total, Utah expects to spend $36 million on the two buildings. Completion is targeted for the summer of 2015.

The facility upgrades for the basketball program come on the heels of $32 million being spent on the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center, which opened last summer. Much like that building, the new basketball facility will feature a special strength and conditioning center, a sports medicine center, film rooms, locker rooms, two gymnasiums, lounge areas, a nutrition center, a media center and office space for coaching staffs.

Joining Krystkowiak as featured guests at the groundbreaking ceremony were Jon and Karen Huntsman, University of Utah President David Pershing, athletic director Chris Hill, women’s basketball coach Anthony Levrets, Runnin’ Utes forward Jordan Loveridge, and senior Taryn Wicijowski of the women’s squad. Also in attendance were a number of former Utah players, including Josh Grant, Alex Jensen and Jason Washburn.

“In the end, we’re all about the students,” Pershing said. “ ... The facilities will help not just our basketball students, but all of the students who work in this area.”

Even though construction hasn’t actually begun, Krystkowiak feels the facility already seems to be helping the program. As he and his assistants have hit the recruiting trail, he said the center has become an item of discussion that has piqued the interest of future Utes, including Utah's highly rated incoming freshmen class.

“A lot of why they wanted to be here besides who we are and how we do things around here was the thought of this new facility that they’re gonna be moving into,” Krystkowiak said.

Levrets is anticipating a similar boon in recruiting for the women's program.

“We go into people’s homes now and we’re gonna show them this new beautiful facility where their kids can come get a great education, be around unbelievable people, and then call this place their home for many, many years,” he said.

Jon Huntsman, who has been a key player in helping the Utah athletics department identify elements to include in the facility, said he’s confident the university will be home to one of the country’s finest centers of its kind.

“When these facilities are completed,” he said, “nobody will have any place better or any place more modern or up to date.”

Ryan McDonald is a part-time reporter, scoreboarder and visual editor at the Deseret News.