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Heath proud to show off new Sun Dome



sundome2.jpg(Here is video from today's news conference taken by the Times' Joseph Garnett Jr. At left is latest rendering from USF of what the renovated Sun Dome will look like.)

TAMPA -- When Stan Heath became USF's men's basketball coach five years ago, he heard about the school investing in the program, about a new practice facility and long-overdue renovations to the Sun Dome, the Bulls' home since 1980.

On Wednesday, standing in USF's Muma Center practice facility, Heath smiled as he talked about the upcoming completion of a $35 million Sun Dome makeover, in time to host spring commencement ceremonies in early May.

"Five years ago, none of this existed. It was just a conversation," Heath said. "To see it come to fruition is amazing. A lot of people say things, they're going to do this, going to do that. To watch how quickly things have changed here is just so impressive. ... It doesn't get much better than this."

Heath and athletic director Doug Woolard gave media members a hard-hat tour through the Sun Dome, which is in the final stages of his renovation. The arena is barely recognizable, with a new lower bowl, a fixed second level with concourses beneath, a baseline-to-baseline club level on one side, 10 loge suites on the other side and a center-hung scoreboard.

Paired with USF's first NCAA Tournament appearance in 20 years and the Bulls' first-ever NCAA victories, it's a huge surge of momentum for Heath's program, which tied for fourth in the Big East after being picked to finish 14th in the conference by league coaches in the preseason. Facilities -- once a weak point in USF's recruiting pitch -- will now be a draw to help Heath land a higher level of talented prospects.

"From a recruiting standpoint, it's a slam dunk," Heath said. "It's going to make a world of difference in our recruiting and our program going forward. I can't tell you how many coaches from five years ago were telling me 'Man, that's a tough job. I don't know if you want to take that job,' to now 'Man, you've got a great job.' You live in a great environment, you've got great facilities, great support. It's really turned into a special, special place."

It is the latest in an ambitious wave of facility upgrades over the past 14 months, including new stadiums for baseball, softball, as well as the Muma Center and new practice fields for football.

"As much as the other athletic venues have surpassed my best hopes, this has even surpassed that," Woolard said. "I think when people come in and see this building, they're going to say 'Are you kidding me?'"

And the 10,000 new seats aren't the only thing green about the Sun Dome. USF says that 92 percent of the debris removed from the renovation was recycled -- more than 10 million pounds -- and that with new energy-saving measures, the arena will reduce its energy costs by 26 percent and its water usage by 40 percent.

USF will hold a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 2, and the arena will again be home to USF's spring commencement ceremonies on May 4-5. The Bulls are expected to hold a "Midnight Madness" event for fans built around USF's first practice in October, and could have as many as 18 home basketball games in 2012-13 in their first season back on campus.

[Last modified: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 9:37pm]


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