COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Nearly 400 people were on hand Monday afternoon for the ribbon cutting and Grand Opening of the new Basketball Office Complex in Eblen Center. A column (below) in the Cookeville Herad-Citizen, written by Thomas Corhern, details the events of the day.
For Tennessee Tech athletics, it's been a long time coming.
Through the fundraising efforts, through the designs and blueprints, through the groundbreaking, through the construction, through the decoration -- after all of those were completed and $2 million spent to do the work, just one more thing remained.
Unveiling it all to the public.
Tech athletics director Mark Wilson and the Golden Eagle athletics staff did just that Monday, opening the doors to the new and improved Hooper Eblen Center to a throng of Tech athletic supporters.
From the lobby welcoming the fans with the visage of the Tech logo, to upgraded trophy cases, to a radically redesigned Eagles' Nest to the new basketball coaching complex -- complete with the athletic director's skybox overlooking the Eblen Center's court.
"We were thrilled with the response," Wilson said. "Certainly, we appreciated all the university people and the community that came out to join us on the joyous occasion. But it really couldn't have been done without the help of our benefactors and our donors. We really appreciate the people who step forward to help us with these projects and we're looking forward to people continuing to support us as we take on new initiatives."
It's turning the old new again, and it gives a facelift to what is already more than 30-year-old building, continuing the process started with the updated graphics on the court and new goals to complete the theme.
"It doesn't look like the same building anymore," Wilson said. "We know this building has a lot of great years left. We wanted to make sure that the improvements that we made were something that were going to last for the rest of the lifespan of this building and to modernize it, bring it up to the standards of college athletics today."
But the process did not start with the Eblen Center.
"We've done work at Tucker Stadium including the turf and the track," Wilson said. "We've upgraded the lighting to broadcast-quality lighting. We upgraded the coaches' offices and the locker rooms, among many other improvements we have done. We have just tried to keep following our strategic plan, find and identify other sources of funding to help us achieve the goals that we have for our intercollegiate athletics facilities."
As Tech's first full-time athletic director since Dave Coffey in the '80s, Wilson has strived to put Golden Eagle athletics on the map.
When I was a student-worker in the athletic department during Wilson's first year, I remember a conversation we had at the time discussing media guides and we agreed on a common statement -- Image is everything.
"First impressions are important," Wilson said. "With many of our facilities, so much of it is about recruiting. But it's also about operational efficiencies and how we coach and train our student-athletes. We think all the plans we have in place take that into consideration. Certainly, this new basketball complex will allow our coaches to be more efficient -- we think the more efficient they are, the better the chance for them to have success.
"We believe it's a 'wow' space. When recruits -- not just basketball, but all sports -- visit the facility improvements that we have, they say 'Wow.' It doesn't matter if a softball or baseball recruit takes a look at Tucker Stadium -- they say 'That's a beautiful place,' and they see that we have a commitment to successful athletics at Tennessee Tech."
And it all started with something as simple as a logo three years ago.
That logo, part of a major branding initiative, itself features as a major part in the renovations to the Eblen Center, from the aforementioned lobby floor, to the glass doors entering the Eagles' Nest, even to the trash cans in the building.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, a tearful Wilson gave Tech president Bob Bell one of those trash cans, because "he didn't throw the idea into the trash," a thank-you for believing in what Tech athletics is trying to do.
Obviously, there are still things that need to be worked out, but through the department's fundraising efforts, things are starting to fall into place.
And the just competed additions are just the tip of the iceberg.
Another groundbreaking could happen in the coming months for the new strength and conditioning center behind the Tech baseball and softball complex.
"That's what we're working on," Wilson said. "We're identifying funding. We have that project already disclosed to the Tennessee Board of Regents and we're working through the approval processes so we can move quickly on that project as soon as we can."
But all of this shows a commitment to the student-athletes and to the university.
It would have been so easy to just keep going through the motions, making do with what they had and being content with that.
For Wilson and his staff, that's not an option.
They're looking higher.
They're expecting better.
Because, after all, image is everything.