University of Akron basketball players have a new home away from home.
The men’s and women’s teams now have separate lounges and a common weight room at Rhodes Arena. The project was started in March and completed late in the summer.
The lounges and weight room contain amenities that have left the two coaches searching for superlatives.
“They are awesome. They are comparable to what any team in the country has,” men’s coach Keith Dambrot said. “It’s a way to make your program different than others at our level. That’s what we are trying to do, differentiate our program.
“Nobody in the MAC [Mid-American Conference] has anything like this. The people who have seen it all say they cannot believe how nice it is.”
Women’s coach Jodi Kest offered a similar assessment.
“It’s a beautiful facility, one of the nicest ones I have ever seen,” Kest said. “There are others that might be bigger, but the quality here is outstanding. They did a terrific job. It has everything that you could possibly want.”
The lounges are each 1,250 square feet, and the weight room is 1,650 square feet. They are on the north side of the arena in an area that once contained classrooms. Only players, coaches and other team officials are allowed to use them, and all are provided with a code to gain entry.
The two lounges are virtually identical, except the women’s facility has an island in the kitchen area and a popcorn machine.
Each has recliners that face a large-screen television capable of receiving four channels at once. Behind them is a long table with raised seating to view the same television. There are also several tables, chairs and couches that can be used to study or socialize, and another smaller television and computer hookups.
The kitchen area in each has a stove, refrigerator and microwave and plenty of room for other accessories.
The cost of the project was $500,000, with some of the money coming from one private donor, who has requested anonymity, and some from university funding.
“We wanted to have a place for them to hang out together,” said Dambrot, who is in his eighth season with the Zips. “The more that you can keep them together and spend time together in their own atmosphere, the better off you are as far as team chemistry and things like that.”
Both programs will use the lounges and weight room as a recruiting tool, but that is not their primary purpose.
“From a recruiting standpoint, this is phenomenal. But mostly, this is for our players,’’ said Kest, who is in her sixth year as coach. “They have the opportunity to come in here, relax, rewind, study, watch video of games and hang out with their teammates.
“Our team is very close. So for them to have somewhere they can hang out together and enjoy each other’s company … this is the place.”
Each lounge has enough wall space to add special touches to make them distinctive. The men’s lounge is a work in progress, but the women’s lounge already has photographs under categories such as family, alumni, academics, community service and basketball.
“Those are the core values of our program, what our values are,” Kest said. “I want our players to see that every day.”
For decades, the Zips have had to assemble in small locker rooms that contain some couches, lockers, showers and bathrooms.
Those facilities will be retained, but now there is an alternative that will be the envy of many programs.
“This is a big deal, something really good that we can do for our players and to help us recruit,” Dambrot said.
Both teams are preparing for a new season that begins next month.
The men will play a home exhibition game Nov. 3 against John Carroll and the women will play a home exhibition game Nov. 5 against Ohio Dominican.