There’s a new basketball facility being built on Tucson’s south side, and the quality of its courts and baskets might only be second to, well, one.
Six miles south of McKale Center, on Contractor’s Way, sits the LEAD Practice Facility, and it’s taking a page out of the UA basketball arena’s book.
By ‘page,’ we mean baskets. Two of them. That’s where it all started for Bob Spencer, the development manager for the new facility, which is set to open up sometime in mid-to-late fall. It’ll also have the same type of floors as McKale, too.
“I bought two of the used baskets from McKale, which then became, ‘Well, you can put them in a warehouse,’ which then became this,” Spencer said. “It was an idea that started with two baskets.”
The 13,000 square foot property will have professional grade breakaway rims, LED lighting, Connor Rezil Channel flooring and a state-of-the-art wood floor — like at McKale — with six baskets, two high school regulation courts, one collegiate/pro court and six high-tech gun basketball shooting machines.
Spencer is hoping to provide a training experience unlike any other in Southern Arizona. A team of coaches, headed by former UA women’s basketball staffer Jaamal Rhodes, will staff the place.
“It’s going to be a training facility where we want kids here in Tucson to have the ability to come in and train as much as going out to play,” said Rhodes, a video coordinator for UA coach Niya Butts and the Wildcats for the last four years.
Added Spencer: “There’s a lot of facilities in Tucson that kids can go to, there’s community centers and churches and that type of thing. But besides the new facilities at the U of A, this is where they get to play on a floor like this and shoot on baskets like this. Putting that kind of equipment and floor in a building gives us the opportunity to bring in pro-level people as well. It gives kids a chance to do something they don’t get to very often.”
The new facility will cater to more than kids. Eventually, the LEAD Practice Facility could host a WNBA training camp or, at least, be home to a handful of pro players during the offseason.
Rhodes is close with former San Antonio Silver Stars guard Davellyn Whyte, a former UA standout, and her teammate Danielle Robinson.
“I’m not sure, but it could possibly happen,” Rhodes said. “Maybe not exactly training camp, but there’s a possibility you could see some WNBA players in Tucson.”
Rhodes and Spencer care more about the educational side than anything else. LEAD’s facility will include an on-site educational resource center for kids looking to study between workouts.
“The kids can come and they can do their homework, get help with their homework, and train,” Spencer said. “We looked at a gazillion facilities and we couldn’t find one that really fit this.”
And that’s what sold Rhodes, who Spencer met after bringing his daughter to a “Little Dribblers” youth basketball camp a few years ago. There, Rhodes taught basketball fundamentals to young boys and girls.
Spencer was amazed at the level in which Rhodes was able to connect with the kids, especially his daughter, which helped set the plan in motion to get Rhodes involved.
Rhodes resigned from the UA on May 30.
“Every young boy thinks they’re going to the NBA. Every young girl that plays basketball, they want to go as far as they can,” Rhodes said.
“So what we’re trying to do is provide an opportunity for kids to learn and work at the game and get better through not just going to the gym and playing, but working on their craft.”