New training facility wows Pelicans

Having already moved into the New Orleans Pelicans’ new training facility, General Manager Dell Demps said he felt like “a child the day after Christmas” as he prepared to lead the media on a tour of the Metairie facility Tuesday.

“This will be sort of like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” he said, gushing.

Construction began the first week of December and was finished in late August. Players began working out then, and staff moved in around Labor Day.

The media had toured the facility in July, but this was the first time the Pelicans, who open training camp Oct. 1, showcased the facility with all of its finishing touches. For those seeing the completed building for the first time, “palace” seemed appropriate.

“It has all the amenities a team could ever want,” Demps said. “Tyreke Evans told me I undersold him when I told him about it” before he agreed to play for the Pelicans.

New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson said he set out to build the NBA’s finest practice facility, and that it was the start of things to come.

“We believe we have the finest facility in the NBA,” he said. “With that, we’re looking to have the finest basketball team. That’s the way it ought to be. We have the finest city, best fans, finest … I almost said football team, but that’s true, too.”

The fans are in on the buzz, too, Benson said. Twelve thousand season tickets have been sold, the most since the franchise moved to New Orleans. About 10,000 were sold last season.

From the entrance of the new facility, there is much to like, starting with finger-access security that allows players to come in at any time. Demps said when he arrived at 7 a.m. Tuesday, Evans was there, shooting jump shots.

“Some players are superstitious and like to work on shooting at a certain time, like 1 a.m.,” Demps said. “A guy may have a bad game and come here right after the game.”

There are many amenities, starting with a board room just past the entrance where team brass can hold meetings such as for the draft. From there, it was on to the weight room, which Demps said was “five times” the size of the one the team had at the Alario Center, its practice home since coming to New Orleans in 2002.

From there, it was to the state-of-the-art training room, where injuries will be treated.

Demps then directed the contingent to the back parking lot, where the Pelicans park. The Saints park in the front. And, outside is a field-turf field for the Saints spring workouts, with a sloped hill behind the end zone for incline work.

From the back entrance, the Pelicans will first pass an autograph room, where they will sign balls, jerseys and the like designated for charity and events.

Then they pass the trainers room, which is sort of a check-in. After that are a mail-slot area and a small changing room for the players, and the main locker room, which is also a combination lounge.

Just off the locker room is one of the main amenities — an area with a large cold tub and hot tub and a steam bath. All of that, of course, is just past the barber’s chair.

There’s an equipment room, of course, and a large locker room for the basketball operations employees, which includes the coaches.

However, the apple of Demps’ eye came next — the theater, which has inclined stadium seating.

“This is one of my favorite rooms in the building,” he said. “This is where we will watch film. A lot of teaching will go on here. What I like about it is it’s separate from the locker room.”

In the event of late-night film watching, or shooting, there’s a breakfast room with healthy snacks, a juice bar and more. Players also will be fed breakfast before practices. That’s not to be confused with the cafeteria, which is a short walk across the parking lot. That’s where lunch is served, and it is big enough that the Saints eat there now.

The focal point, however, are two pristine basketball courts. The board room, coaches offices, basketball operations offices, even the cardio room for injured players, all face the court, which is light-colored maple featuring levels of plywood and 3/4-inch foam to make it easy on the legs.

Sammy Saparacello of Woodward Design and Build, which constructed the 50,000-foot, $10 million facility, said they aren’t finished. The company is still building The Fourth Down Cafe, which is where players will get nutritious protein shakes and the like.