Former men’s basketball coach Skip Prosser used to tell the story about trying to recruit players to Xavier before the Cintas Center was built. The Cincinnati Gardens was the team’s home court at the time, so he’d drive them over to the Gardens, show them the team’s locker room and then walk them out into the arena—where there would be a rodeo going on. Or a tractor pull. Or a circus.
“Just imagine a basketball court over there where the elephants are,” he’d say.
The Gardens was a step up from Schmidt Fieldhouse, and the team still managed to sign some top-flight players—Byron Larkin, Derek Strong, Brian Grant, Tyrone Hill, James Posey, Aaron Williams, David West. But it was a tough sell. And, being five miles away from campus, it was hard to truly call it home.
All of that changed 10 years ago, though, with the opening of the Cintas Center. The 10,250-seat arena put Xavier on an even recruiting plane with the best basketball programs in the country and ahead of most of its competition.
“The Gardens was a great home, but it wasn’t our home,” says Xavier’s director for athletics Mike Bobinski. “We only used it for men’s basketball—volleyball and women’s basketball were still in Schmidt Fieldhouse—and we couldn’t really use it for recruiting. Today, when we bring in recruits, we don’t hide anything. Players want to go to a place that they can see is committed to the program, and there are very few, if any, on-campus arenas that I would put ahead of the Cintas Center.”
Watch a timelapse video of the new Cintas Center scoreboard being erected.
In today’s world, attracting student-athletes—especially highly recruited, national caliber players—is a whole new game compared to years past. Colleges begin recruiting certain players when they’re still freshmen in high school. The athletes are wined and dined to the extent that the National Collegiate Athletic Association will allow. And since many programs make many of the same offers—playing time, dynamic coach, games on TV—what used to be nothing more than materialistic extras like how fancy the arenas and locker rooms are or whose shoes you wear are now big selling points.
“It makes a huge difference to them, rightly or wrongly,” says Bobinski. “Those are the kinds of things that get the attention of young people today. You’re bringing them here when they’re 17, 16, heck sometimes even 15 years old, and a facility is part of the equation. Whether it should or shouldn’t be is open for debate.”
Which is why Xavier has updated the locker rooms, weight rooms, the scoreboard and various other parts of the building over the last 10 years. “You’re hard pressed to say it’s a 10-year-old building,” says Bobinski.
And it’s also why both Xavier and the Cintas Center have become benchmarks for other colleges. Officials from numerous universities—Saint Louis, Fordham, Duquesne, St. Joseph’s—have cited the building as one of the main reasons for Xavier’s athletic success and claimed that the only way they can keep pace with the Musketeers is to have a Cintas Center-like facility of their own.
And many have done just that. In the decade since its opening, there’s been a steady stream of people from other universities around the country who have toured the building, examining its operations and structure, and using it as a standard for how they could afford to build one of their own.
“People from the University of Virginia came three times,” says Bobinski. “Saint Louis more than that. Notre Dame was here.”
The reality is, says Bobinski, that Xavier’s overall athletic success has been part of a long-term plan and years in the making. But the opening of the Cintas Center 10 years ago was one of—if not the—major turning point.
“To say that we’re where we are today because of it is a very fair statement,” says Bobinski. “Having the right people in place is the biggest reason, but having a great facility for them to recruit in and compete in is a very close second.”