Noie: Rolfs Hall a heck of a home for Notre Dame basketball programs

Tom Noie | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider


Basketball does matter.

Everyone at Notre Dame has long said it, but you finally can see it.

It’s there at the corners of Leahy Drive and Moose Krause Circle, a place nearly two decades in the making. In the planning. In the hoping. Promises and plans that came and went. Maybe in five years. Maybe in 10. Maybe never.

Earlier this month, the university held the official dedication of Rolfs Athletic Hall, the former student activities center and now stand-alone practice facility for the Irish men’s and women’s basketball programs.

On Thursday, area media was given a tour. The e-mail invitation was right out of “Caddyshack.” You know, where the caddies were welcome at the club pool from “1:00 to 1:15.” Thursday’s tour was originally penciled in to run 15 minutes. A whole 900 seconds to see it all.

The actual walk-through doubled the scheduled time frame. It was casual and cool. No hurries; no worries. Want a few more pictures of the two practice courts? The modern locker rooms? The large conference rooms? Go ahead. Want to see Mike Brey’s third-floor office suite? Go take a peek. Stay as long as needed and soak it all in.

Even Brey was in full-on casual mode. A scheduled 15-minute interview session ran nearly 30. He just kept talking, mainly about the building. In the past, the Irish would practice in one area of Purcell Pavilion, lift weights in another, meet as a team in a third, get treatment in a fourth, eat in a fifth. It was ridiculously inefficient for a power-five program. Players and coaches were all over the place. He’s where? Here? There?

Rolfs offers one-stop shopping for anything and everything basketball.

It’s about time.

“We’re where we need to be,” Brey said. “This has been an eye-opener for our guys. It had to happen. I knew we’d get there.”

Hoped? Sure. Knew? Not always. But it got done. Talk about needing a practice facility started in 2000.

“It’s a beautiful facility; it’s exactly what we need,” said women’s coach Muffet McGraw. “The facility is amazing. Everything is first class.”

Rolfs is without peer in the Atlantic Coast Conference simply based on its size. The building is 77,000 square feet of basketball, and a lot more. Like the spacious locker rooms. The two massage chairs in each team’s respective lounges, which include kitchen areas. Someone on the men’s side forgot to clean a dirty oven pan. The men’s lounge also includes a Pop-A-Shot machine and a barber chair, just in case you want a quick fade before hoisting fade jumpers.

McGraw offered to stick around after her presser and give the media a tour of her team’s side of the building, where the smell of fresh paint permeates the lobby area.

“I’m still trying to figure out the lighting,” McGraw said.

Down two flights of stairs, the lower level houses a do-it-yourself-smoothie bar, which sits just off a massive weight room that measures 4,100-square feet. That’s more than double what the programs had in the North Dome of the Joyce Center. It’s larger than what the football program uses at the Guglielmino Center (2,500 square feet).

The old weight room carried four cardio stationary bikes. Rolfs has eight. The new weight room is so big and so diverse that strength and conditioning coach Tony Rolinski has machines that he hasn’t yet used. He’ll get to those when the players return next month for summer school.

“They’re in for a surprise,” Rolinski said.

Past, present, future

The building’s common entry area is split by the programs. The men on the left, the women on the right, evidenced by the program’s two national championship trophies standing sentry. The men’s entry wall features a collage of photos anchored by celebration shots of the 2015 ACC tournament championship game and of Brey winning game No. 394 — the most in program history — in January 2018. On the right wall hangs large photos of two big shots to win two big games — Ruth Riley at the free throw line seconds before the 2001 national championship win over Purdue and Arike Ogunbowale’s corner jumper that won the 2018 national championship.

Side hallways on each side off the main lobby carry individual photos of All Americans from each program.

In the women’s theater room, which seats 23, sits a McGraw quote on one wall. It reads, “We are developing strong women who aren’t afraid to fight for what they believe in.”

On the men’s practice court is a Brey quote directly below murals of former Irish Tim Abromaitis, David Graves and Tory Jackson. It reads, “In our program, guys get better. That doesn’t happen without hard work … and it starts right here.”

And continues. Guys historically get better in the program. That, Brey said, should continue in Rolfs, where players have 24/7 access — when the front key card entry works. That’s still a little spotty. No longer will baton twirling tournaments take precedent over basketball in summers. That’s huge.

“It’s an even more efficient laboratory for them to get better in,” Brey said. “It’s a little bit mind-blowing.”

Each program has a regulation court and three side baskets to use during practices. That means players not going 5-on-5 can still shoot on the side baskets, something that isn’t available at Purcell Pavilion or the team’s former “practice facility” in The Pit.

For McGraw, that additional space was priority one.

“You never could do anything when everyone was shooting at the same time,” she said. “We can practice completely differently now. We were just so hampered.”

Rolfs has been open since fall, but the functionality of it was disjointed. The teams sometimes practiced in Purcell Pavilion, other days over at Rolfs, still others in The Pit. Through it all, the coaching staffs continued to use their old Joyce Center offices. They just recently finished moving over; McGraw’s office walls are still bare. While Rolfs was being finished, players sometimes had to use a back entrance off Leahy Drive to access the practice courts. In the winter, the only way to gain entry was through a side door nearest the North Dome of the Joyce Center. It all was a bit weird.

Brey hasn’t been back to Purcell Pavilion in over a month. He still sometimes forgets and steers his car in that direction instead of the small coaches’ lot outside Rolfs. He still can’t figure out how to use all the technology in the conference room.

“It’s an efficient place,” Brey said. “It’s awesome.”

One specific request from the men’s side was the inclusion of an alumni locker room. Situated back behind the current players’ locker room is a space reserved for past players who come back through campus to work out. Brey said that former Irish guard Demetrius Jackson “has pretty much been living in here.” On Thursday, former Irish power forward Elijah Burns, who left the program four games into last season, wandered up from the practice floor after a workout.

This summer, former Irish swingman and NBA veteran Pat Connaughton plans to hold a minicamp for a dozen or so former Irish at Rolfs.

“I love it that they’ll be here using the facility,” Brey said. “There will be some good pickup games with our current guys.”

Just as basketball settles into Rolfs, coaches and players can walk out and gaze across to the opposite corner of Leahy Drive and Moose Krause Circle and see another massive indoor practice facility nearing completion.

On this campus, football is and always will be king.

At least the basketball programs feel more like royalty.

Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw shows locker room features during a tour of the new Rolfs Athletics Hall Thursday at Notre Dame.
The men’s practice court during a tour of the new Rolfs Athletics Hall during a tour Thursday at Notre Dame.
The nutrition area during a tour of the new Rolfs Athletics Hall at Notre Dame.