By John Crumpacker
It’s about to get a little noisier, a little dustier and a little more congested on the Hilltop. That’s a good thing. Really, it is.
The University of San Francisco on Wednesday announced a philanthropic gift of $15 million from Silicon Valley real estate developer John Sobrato and his wife Susan, the largest individual donation in school history.
The largesse will kick start USF’s “master plan’’ for renovating 60-year-old Memorial Gym and expanding it into a multi-use facility that will be called the Sobrato Center and feature on the expanded west side of the gym a club level with preferred seating for San Francisco swells.
Along with the donation from the Sobratos, a $5 million gift in 2014 from longtime university benefactor Tom Molloy (Class of ’61) will go toward a dedicated practice facility that is to be built above the parking lot adjacent to Memorial Gym on the east side. The practice facility will be part of the overall Sobrato Center.
As well, USF’s baseball facility just down Golden Gate Avenue from Memorial Gym is under renovation, and due to be completed by January. When the Sobrato Center is finished, it will give USF a modern facility for its signature sport.
“We’re off and running,’’ USF athletics director Scott Sidwell said. “It’s going to be as soon as possible but not in a rush. There’s a lot of moving parts. … It’s really going to enhance our men’s and women’s basketball programs. We’ll be one of the few in our conference to have a dedicated practice facility, which will really help recruiting. It sends a message to recruits about USF’s commitment.’’
Sidwell said construction will likely begin this summer and take 3-4 years to complete as the school has to be a “good neighbor’’ in an area of dense residential housing in the immediate area. In other words, there won’t be jackhammers a-hammering at 2 in the morning.
“Over the next 36-48 months, you’re going to see a significant amount of construction going on,’’ Sidwell said. “What it really says is we’re committed to being on top of the WCC, to being one of the best Jesuit institutions in the country. We believe athletics can spread the word about what a great education USF can provide.
“It’s great news for the WCC as well. We’re working to compete at a high level. We want to compete and we want to win, and these are the things you have to do to do that. It’s going to transform our campus.’’
For his part, Sobrato said in a statement released by USF, “As a real estate developer, I like to build things. When I saw War Memorial Gym, I asked myself, ‘Why don’t we modernize this building, bring in the natural light, and make it a much more inviting place not only for athletics but also for all campus events?’ It’s going to be a great-looking building when we’re done.’’
According to USF, when finished, the Sobrato Center will be a true multi-use facility capable of holding classes and lectures by day and basketball games by night. In the recent past, Memorial Gym was the site of significant campus lectures and visits by the Dalai Lama in 2003 and by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012.
On the basketball court, the Dons are at Fresno State on Thursday night and return home to face UC Riverside on Saturday night.
At the WCC’s Tip-Off event, I asked Pepperdine’s All Conference forward, Stacy Davis, who his team’s most exciting newcomer was. Without hesitation he named Kameron Edwards, a 6-foot-6 freshman forward from Johnny Carson’s favorite Southern California hamlet, Rancho Cucamonga.
“I’m putting you guys on notice,’’ Davis said. “He’s an incredible athlete. He brings another level to our defense, he brings another level to our offense. He can guard all five positions. He’s going to be a mismatch for people. I’m excited to play with him. He is going to be good for us.’’
Going into Thursday night’s game at UCLA, Edwards averaged 22 minutes, 11.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in Pepperdine’s first two games. And he’s just 17/18.
“He’s going to surprise a lot of people,’’ Waves coach Marty Wilson said. “He’s got the respect of his teammates early, when we were playing pickup. You don’t have to correct him often. He doesn’t make the same mistake twice. He’s smart, tough and athletic. He’s probably as athletic as anyone we have. He’s as physically tough as anyone we have.’’
Getting to the bottom of it
When I glanced at Loyola Marymount’s schedule for Nov. 22 and saw “Antelope Valley,’’ I thought something must be amiss. Antelope Valley is a junior college, a two-year school, located in Lancaster, on the edge of the Mojave Desert in Los Angeles County. That can’t be right.
It isn’t. LMU on Sunday will play the University of Antelope Valley, a private four-year school also located in Lancaster. UAV, all of six years in existence, is in its third year as an NAIA school and its first in the California Pacific Conference, with an ambitious non-conference schedule that includes five Division I teams, including Weber State, LMU and San Jose State.
“It can get a little confusing,’’ UAV athletics director Jeff Bussell said, noting his four-year school called Antelope Valley is about five miles away from the two-year school named Antelope Valley.
As for a NAIA school taking on a Division I opponent, Bussell said, “It’s fun for our kids. Most wished they could have played on the D-I level.’’
To LMU, all I can say is, everyone deserves a cupcake now and then.
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Pepperdine signed a recruit for 2016-17 named Craig LaCesne from Malmo, Sweden. He’s a 6-foot-9 forward who was born in Sweden, lived in the U.S. until he was eight, moved back to Sweden until he was 16 and returned to the U.S. for high school in Hagerstown, Md. Reaction: They have Craigs in Sweden? … Sodden thought: When Gonzaga plays Washington on Monday morning in Nassau, Bahamas, in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, will the humidity be similar to what it was when the Zags and Pitt had their game in Okinawa, Japan cancelled at halftime due to dangerous court conditions? It gets humid in the Caribbean, too. … Pacific guard T.J. Wallace, on his outlook for the Tigers this season, “I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people. We’re picked seventh this year and obviously, I think we’re better than that. We hold each other accountable for a high level (of play).’’
John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards.