By GENARO C. ARMAS, AP Sports Writer
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Recruiting and retaining players in the NBA means more than just offering top-dollar contracts.
Money, of course, helps. But a shiny new practice facility, complete with a state-of-the-art weight room and even its own barber shop, can help build a case, too.
Consider the Milwaukee Bucks’ new downtown training center another step forward for one of the NBA’s up-and-coming teams.
“This is amazing,” general manager Jon Horst said. “This is going to change the way we do things.”
The Bucks held a grand opening ceremony on Thursday for the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Science Center, which is across the street from the construction site of the team’s new area scheduled to be ready for the 2018-19 season.
This upcoming season will be the last for the team at the Bradley Center, which is one block south of the new arena site. But when the Bucks return for practice in a couple months, they’ll report downtown instead of their old training facility in the Milwaukee suburb of St. Francis.
That facility was located on grounds owned by the Catholic Church. It was in a quiet area about a 15-minute drive from the arena with one practice court and increasingly cramped quarters, especially after a new ownership group bought the Bucks from former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl in 2014.
The spacious practice facility has two practice courts; a kitchen area overseen by the team’s personal chef and dietitian; and a cardio deck overlooking the strength training room.
Even a new conference room that will serve as a “war room” on NBA draft nights makes people smile. The conference room at the old training center only seated eight, so draft nights would be crowded.
“If you can’t get excited to come in here every single day, something’s really wrong with you,” Dave Dean, vice president of basketball operations, said in a bright work space where scouts and analytics experts will work outside general manager Jon Horst’s office.
Horst took the GM job in June after John Hammond moved to Orlando to become the Magic’s general manager. But Horst, who joined the Bucks in 2008, as the director of basketball operations, worked for years out of the old practice facility.
The new center will be a hub for new athletic performance research to be conducted by the Bucks and MCW researchers, the team said. Froedtert built a new health center on the same block that will be open to the public. The training center and arena have been focal points for other new development in downtown Milwaukee.
“As we stand here today, I can’t help but think that this land had been empty for a decade. … Thank you for the vision,” Alderwoman Milele Coggs said at the ceremony Thursday.
In the past, Milwaukee hasn’t been the most attractive free agent destination, especially since the team has struggled to win consistently, let alone play .500 basketball. Wisconsin winters can also be tough.
But the Bucks seem to have turned things around under coach Jason Kidd, having gone to the playoffs two of the last three seasons. The Bucks’ 42-win season last year was the franchise’s first above .500 since 2009-10.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has turned into one of league’s top players, while Malcolm Brogdon won the Rookie of the Year Award this year.
“Money always matters with recruiting with professional athletes, as does how successful you are or going to be matters,” Horst said. “Facilities (are) right there on that list. Facilities absolutely matters in professional sports.”
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