Published April 17. 2013 4:00AM
Storrs — After posing for countless pictures and shoveling enough dirt to get calluses on his hands, Kevin Ollie stepped down off the mound.
"That was enough shoveling for me," Ollie said with a smile. "I'm glad my wife wasn't here to see all that shoveling."
Ollie, the UConn men's coach, and members of the extended basketball family - both from the men's and women's programs - athletic department officials and supporters celebrated the official ground-breaking of the UConn Basketball Development Center on Tuesday.
Festivities were held outdoors on the site of the old Memorial Stadium where the $35 million, 78,200-square foot facility is being built. The projected completion date is May 2014.
Ollie called it a "great day."
"This facility is going to be a great landmark for our university and for our student-athletes and alumni," Ollie said. "This building is going up as a foundation for the future of our program."
Fresh off winning the program's eighth national championship, women's coach Geno Auriemma also addressed the crowd.
"When I came to Connecticut, it was because of the people and it's still about the people," Auriemma said. "Having said that, we have the best people and the best students and they deserve the best facility.
"If we're going to be the No. 1 school in America, then we should be the No. 1 school in everything we do, and this building helps us do that."
The addition of a state-of-the-art facility will help UConn remain competitive with other prominent schools. The building will feature practice courts for each team, student lounges, meeting and locker rooms, coaching staff offices, and rooms for academic support, strength training, film sessions, dining and sports medicine.
There also will be a Hall of Fame to honor UConn basketball's rich tradition; The two programs own a combined 11 national championships.
"This is a great point in our history," athletic director Warde Manuel said. "This facility is going to represent a shining example of the success and the passion of UConn."
Ryan Boatright, who joined fellow sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis from the women's program as student-athlete representatives at the ceremony, also gave the project a big thumbs up.
"On behalf of the men's basketball, I would like to thank everyone who helped make this practice facility a reality," Boatright said. "We've been hearing a lot about it. It's been a long time coming but it's finally here.
"It means a lot to us players, walking out here and seeing the building every day and knowing that we will have this place to call our own."
Ollie is already looking forward to showing it off to recruits.
"It's definitely going to help us recruiting," Ollie said. "Just to see a state of the art facility going up … to have your own place where you can come and shoot all times of the night and morning. It's definitely going to be a facility that we can show off."
Ollie has seen the program grow into a national power since his arriving from California for his freshman season at UConn in 1991. He praised Auriemma and former men's coach Jim Calhoun for taking their respective programs from the ground floor to the penthouse.
Now it's Ollie's job to keep the momentum moving forward.
"I'm still in awe when I drive up to campus and see how Geno and coach Calhoun have built this place from not having the greatest facilities and keeping All-American players coming after All-American players," Ollie said. "It's just a testament of their vision, belief and recruiting prowess."
"… The momentum is here, but we've got to continue it. We've got to sustain it. … It's just going to be a great facility. I can't wait to have our kids get in it. I'm very, very excited."