While there has been substantial work already done in preparation for the new Wayne Estes Center, Monday was the official groundbreaking.

After several speeches, it was time to start digging some dirt. Ten individuals took part in the ceremonial shovel turning, donning hard hats and using golden shovels.

“For future Aggies, this is a big deal,” said Jarred Shaw, a senior-to-be on the men’s basketball team who took part in turning some dirt. “It is somewhere they will be able to come in 24 hours and get some shots up, get some extra work in. It will help them out a lot. ... It’s a big deal man, Utah State is stepping up in the world. It is huge what they are doing here to help recruiting.”

Makenlee Williams, who will be a sophomore this next season on the women’s basketball team, had similar thoughts after being part of the ceremony.

“This mean a lot, just to be able to take the next step going into the Mountain West,” Williams said. “I think this will help us compete. I’m excited and grateful for all those that made this happen. ... It’s a great time to be an Aggie. We are headed in the right direction.”

Williams was familiar with how to use a shovel. For Shaw, it was a new experience.

“Not at all,” said Shaw, when asked about using a shovel. “... To be a part of this meant a lot to me. To represent the Aggies means a lot to me.”

“Of course I’ve used a shovel. I’m a yard worker,” Williams said. “... It was an honor (to be chosen to dig). I feel blessed and I’m grateful.”

The others taking part in digging some dirt were Utah State University President Stan L. Albrecht, Vice President and Director of Athletics Scott Barnes, Jim Laub, Blake Kirby, associate men’s basketball coach Tim Duryea, head women’s basketball coach Jerry Finkbeiner, head volleyball coach Grayson DuBose and Elle Brainard from the Aggie volleyball team. Laub and Kirby have donated large sums to make the project possible.

Barnes thanked Laub and Kirby for “stepping forward” and making the project possible. The Wayne Estes Center will be located west of the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The $9.5 million, 32,000 square-foot facility is expected to be completed in April of 2014.

Jim and Carol Laub kicked off the project with a $5.25 million donation — the largest single gift in the history of Aggie athletics. Kirby added a $1.3 million gift.

“Jim and Carol have played a critical role in the growth of our athletic enterprise in numerous ways over the years,” Barnes said. “Their most recent lead gift to the Wayne Estes Center is a profoundly generous statement that speaks volumes about their devotion to Utah State University athletics and our student-athletes. This comes at a pivotal time as we continue to make the climb in preparation for Mountain West competition.

“... This project would not have moved forward without Blake Kirby coming along with his gift. The timing was crucial.”

The Aggie AD went on to explain the need for the new building, what would be in it and how the name came about. The Wayne Estes Center will be used by the USU men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as the volleyball squad. It will seat 1,400 fans and home volleyball matches will be played there.

“The past few years the basketball and volleyball teams have dominated the floor,” Brainard said. “Having this new building will help us keep this tradition alive. The Wayne Estes Center is going to be a huge benefit to the athletic department and our transition into the Mountain West Conference.”

Finkbeiner addressed the gathering, representing the Aggie coaches, while Brainard, the reigning Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year in volleyball spoke in behalf of the nearly 400 Aggie student-athletes.

“This is a great day to be an Aggie, isn’t it?” Finkbeiner said. “Especially if you are a volleyball or a basketball coach. ... This is a big deal for basketball coaches and future players at Utah State.”

USU head men’s basketball coach Stew Morrill was out of town, attending some family events in northern Montana. However, he sent along a statement that Barnes read.

“Family commitments keep me away from today's groundbreaking of the Wayne Estes Center,” wrote Morrill. “However, even though I'm not there, I have a huge smile on my face because today we take a huge step forward for multiple programs at Utah State. I want to thank Jim and Carol Laub, as well as Blake Kirby for their major donations that made this dream a reality. Practice gyms are a must in today's Division I basketball, especially at the Mountain West level. From the recruiting of players and development of players, you're losing ground if you don't meet this need. Plus, basketball is getting new offices in the Wayne Estes Center and after 15 years at Utah State, Stew Morrill gets a window. Happy Days.”

There were plenty of smiles on the faces of those that attended the event.

“Two weeks ago I was sitting in Mountain West President’s Council meetings in Colorado Springs (Colo.),” Albrecht said. “Sitting around that table gave me the opportunity to reflect again on just how far we’ve come in a relatively short time. ... I just want to make a special shout out and thank each of you for the important roles you have played in making this happen.”

Laub and Kirby also addressed the gathering. Both men have been life-long Aggie supporters.

“It’s an exciting day,” Laub said. “... It is Carol’s and my honor to be a part of this project. I’ve had it in the back of my mind for quite some time now how to bring back Wayne Estes’ memory. This seemed like the fitting time to do it. I also want to thank Blake Kirby and his family for stepping up and joining the project.”

“What an amazing institution Utah State is,” Kirby said. “... When Utah State talks about student-athletes, there's a reason student comes first. Whether you know this or not, our athletes are among some of the leaders in the country with respect to academic performance. I'm grateful to participate and provide a resource for those student-athletes and our great coaches. Recruiting in the Mountain West I know is going to be tough. The bar is getting raised and we all recognize that.”

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sharrison@hjnews.com

Twitter: hjsports

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