He was Big East coach of the year for the second consecutive season. Ten of his players were drafted, two in the first round.
If you didn't know better or haven't taken in a game at J.O. Christian Field, where the Huskies play home games, you might think those achievements mirror the facilities.
They don't. J.O. Christian Field is just that, a field, in an era where colleges have stadiums.
Going forward, that alone could hinder UConn's progress as it looks to grow the program on the national stage. In order to do that, the program must be fortified with the pieces that will make it grow — players.
"We'd like to have something to show recruits that would have a sense of permanence to it, a home; little things like a clubhouse that's connected to the dugout; less tinny, more brick-and-mortar," Penders said. "We'd like to be able to show recruits something that tells them people besides the coaches and players here care about baseball, and we have seen lots of evidence the last few years that people do care. We'd like to be able to back that up.
"It used to be you'd avoid bringing recruits by the library because it was crumbling, or other spots in the center of the campus because there were temporary buildings there. Now, you almost want to avoid the field. It was almost better last year when it was covered with snow."
Penders has been banging the drum for the simplest of things: toilets that flush, and better seating, but the baseball facility has fallen behind the times in so many areas. It's not only baseball. The soccer and softball facilities need upgrades and enhancements, too, because as UConn President Susan Herbst said, "The rest of the campus looks terrific and is very functional, but the athletic facilities have really lagged behind our competitive reach and success."
The school is moving to fix that, establishing stadium enhancement and construction funds for soccer, baseball and softball with the purpose of upgrading or building new facilities. This follows on the heels of doing the same for a new basketball practice facility, long sought by men's coach Jim Calhoun and women's coach Geno Auriemma.
Like the money being raised for the basketball facility, funds for the other projects will come through private donations and will be spearheaded by the school's chief fundraiser, Paul Pendergast, who said it's time to make UConn bigger.
"We have over 30,000 applications this year for 3,000 openings in the freshman class," Pendergast said. "As good as they were, their SAT scores will be much better. We're on this mercurial rise, not just in athletics. But the effect of the investment in athletics — and maybe this is just me being intuitive about it, I don't have an empirical wisdom — but I'm not so dumb to think there isn't some sort of reaction out there because it's hot. We are hot."
Pendergast said the basketball facility is priority No.1 with donations for basketball going straight to basketball. At the end of September, the fundraising was at $8 million for basketball; it is now at about $17 million. Donations earmarked for soccer, baseball and softball are going to those sports. About $1 million has been raised for baseball and $4.5 million for soccer. Target date for all to be completed is 2014, but target date for the basketball facility is late 2013 to early 2014.
Alexandria Roe, UConn's director of planning, said she intends to ask the board of trustees at a Feb. 28 meeting if demolition of Memorial Stadium — where the football team once played and the basketball facility will be — can begin. But that's as far as that project will go until more money is raised.
"Right now the first order of business is taking down Memorial Stadium," Roe said. "And we'd like to get started on that in May, early June."
When it's all said and done, the basketball project could cost $40 million, Roe and Pendergast said, though some estimates are closer to $35 million.
UConn envisions a 70,000-square-foot facility on the Memorial Stadium site, adjacent to Gampel Pavilion, with dedicated practice gyms for the two basketball programs; locker rooms; coaches' offices; and areas for academic support, video analysis, sports medicine and strength training. It will be an all-inclusive building like the Burton Family Football Complex for the football team. The players can study, work out and practice there. The UConn men's program has been under fire for its academic performance and at this point is ineligible for the 2013 NCAA Tournament despite recent improvements. There is no data to suggest this type of facility improves academic performance, but it might.
"... It would be my strong hypothesis that enhanced academic space — with more room and more closed-off quiet study areas — will be very beneficial," Herbst said. "That said, new space absolutely must be paired with more general support of students, from academic advisers and faculty. Academic success is always driven by spending more quality time with students, and making sure they understand the many campus resources available to them. This is true for all students, not only student-athletes."
Both Roe and Pendergast estimate it will take $20 million to $25 million more to address the issues related to baseball, soccer and softball, which will not be all-inclusive.
Penders has a power point presentation he shows in his attempt to raise funds. He notes that the baseball team finished 2011 ranked 14th in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, "the only team that received votes (out of 47 schools) without a flush toilet — one of two without lights." He said UConn's facility is 12th — and last — among Big East schools, fifth among the seven Division I schools in the state. Included in the presentation are opponent's facilities, such as Cincinnati's Marge Schott Stadium, which opened in 2004, seats 3,085 and has a clubhouse and lounge. He shows Louisville's Jim Patterson Stadium, equipped with a LED Matrix scoreboard with a 17 foot by 7 foot video screen.
"Something like Notre Dame has, or Louisville," Penders said when talking about what he hopes for UConn. "I understand I am going to love what Pitt has [in its new facility], something on par with the schools with whom we compete."
"In this day and age the facilities race has been in motion for a while," Pasqualoni said. "When you look at our conference, Louisville has a very nice facility; Cincinnati has a very nice facility; Syracuse, they're not with us anymore, but have a contained facility; Rutgers has nice facilities. You know, it just allows you to be in the game.
"It would be very hard to be in Division I-A football and be able to recruit in I-A football without some form of a facility because people at universities have made those commitments to keep their program in the game. I really don't think you can be in it without the proper facilities."
In the meantime, the fundraising efforts of Herbst — who recently was doing athletic and academic fundraising in Florida — Pendergast and coaches will continue.
"My role in this is to bring it all alive," Pendergast said. "The coaches have been long past patient. They've been asking for these things for a long, long time. It's just now in the past three, four, five months it's been given such emphasis that people are rallying around these things."
It will cost about $60 million or more for everything in Storrs. Peter and Pamela Werth donated $4.5 million to the basketball facility in January. UConn recently received a $1 million gift to reach the current level of about $17.5 million.
"We have toyed with soccer in other locations or basically staying where they are now and making it a whole improvement process," Pendergast said. "I think what would work best in the grand scheme of things is if soccer moved out of its present location and moved to another part of the athletic complex. The natural thing for football would be to go right out the back door of the Shenkman Complex and use the two existing soccer fields for football practice. That's a logical and ideal place.
"Now, because soccer fields are flat and they want a crown on football, it means reconstruction of those in some way, but nevertheless when [football] would give up the two practice fields they have on top of the hill, soccer could use those as practice facilities. So it's kind of a swap. Because soccer is outdoors, what we've envisioned is better locker room facilities, better facilities for coaches and better facilities for visiting teams.
"Baseball needs a whole big upgrade. The fact is we don't even charge admission or have a flush toilet at baseball and we have a program that comes ever so close to getting to Omaha [College World Series]. If you started with 10 kids drafted, two in the first round, you'd think that our facilities would at least be Double A or Triple A kind of facilities ... That's been long overdue. We all know it. [Coach Penders] has been beyond patient with what was talked about, and now we've, I think, kick-started this plan for baseball. "
Pendergast said softball could move behind the proposed basketball practice facility, essentially where the old football locker rooms are located. It's pretty much condemned, although people still use them for meetings at their own peril. Pendergast said those locker rooms would go away independent of any new plans the school has.
No one anticipates that raising the funds will be easy, but there's confidence. Pendergast bleeds Husky Blue; he filled in as interim athletic director before Warde Manuel was named Feb. 12. Pendergast has many years of fundraising experience, having done it previously at UConn, then at St. Francis Hospital before returning to Storrs.
"I don't want to be cavalier about the economy," Pendergast said. "The economy is not as great as it was five years ago. However, here's what I feel, and I felt the same way at St. Francis. In 2008, everybody thought that was going to be a true period of time going forward where you could just write off any potential fundraising. While I was there, after that we had three of the best years in succession in the history of the hospital.
"I don't think it was by coincidence or by chance. It was a lot about getting people who have resources that can make a difference to get even more serious in difficult times."
There will always be a rub between athletics and academics at any major university when Division I sports are emphasized, but as Herbst and Pendergast point out, the money going to athletic facilities comes from private donations.
"So they are people who want to give to athletics," Herbst said. "And we have people who do the same thing for other parts of campus."
Herbst and her husband, Douglas Hughes, announced a gift of $100,000 to the UConn Foundation to establish a scholarship for needy students as part of the university's capital campaign last July, some three weeks after she was hired.
"Frankly, the byproduct of most universities that have made this kind of investment in athletics is that it brings attention to the rest of the university," Pendergast said.
Herbst is on board with that statement. It's not on the front-burner right now, but her goal is to upgrade the recreation center, used by all students. And her goal is to do that through private donations.
"You should see some of the tricked-out rec centers out there. Amazing," she said. "I'd like to do something with that, but we have other priorities in athletics with basketball first, baseball, soccer and softball."
And building a new practice center will help in multiple ways.
"The new basketball center is being built to help the entire campus community by taking pressure off of Gampel, our biggest venue, so that other activities can take place there, to provide adequate academic study space for student athletes who have unusually demanding schedules, and put us in a better position for recruiting new student-athletes since our current facilities are outdated," Herbst said.
Staff writer Dom Amore contributed to this story.