UVU President Holland and Keith Nellesen triumphantly hold up a basketball net

NUVI Basketball Center Delivers

Joonas Tahvenainen in his basketball uniformJoonas Tahvanainen is a typical Utah Valley University basketball player. He dreams of playing professional basketball one day, but he’s also very serious about his education. But in one way he is atypical — he came all the way from Finland to play at UVU.

High school basketball doesn’t exist in Finland as it does in the U.S., but kids can play club basketball. Joonas joined a basketball club with his two brothers when he was 14. He loved the game and wanted to go further in it, so as he neared the end of high school, he talked to his coach about playing college basketball in the U.S. Other players from his club had made that leap, and some have even been drafted into the NBA.

It turned out that Joonas’s club coach had played at the University of Utah with Chris Burgess. Now an assistant coach at UVU, Burgess was the one who recommended that Joonas apply to UVU.

A sophomore business management major, Joonas has been studying English since he was 10. He adjusted easily to life in the U.S. and loves Utah’s warm summers — much warmer than in his home city of Helsinki. Nevertheless, he was very glad to spend time with his family over the summer when he returned to Finland for mandatory military service.

One of the challenges Joonas faced in his first year at UVU, along with the rest of the team, was finding places to train. Last year the team traveled around the county to borrowed gyms, practicing at 6 a.m. at different high schools. When Men’s Head Basketball Coach Mark Pope came to UVU in 2015, his team couldn’t even find a court on the first day of practice. So Pope turned to President Matthew S. Holland with a request — a dedicated basketball training facility.

Coach Pope speaks at the opening of the NUVI Basketball Center

A little over two years later, the NUVI Basketball Center was completed. “I love that everything happens so fast at UVU,” says Pope. “It’s more like a tech company than a traditional university.”

But a lot of scrambling and a lot of generosity from donors went on behind the scenes to make it all happen that quickly. The facility was entirely funded through philanthropy, including a lead donation from NUVI chair and CEO Keith Nellesen. Other major donors include Utah Community Credit Union, Ryan Toolson, WCF Insurance, Todd Pedersen, Alexander’s Print Advantage, Travis Hansen, Forte Elements, and Roger Fields.

As UVU officially cut the ribbon on the NUVI Basketball Center September 13, 2017, President Matthew S. Holland said, “We are so grateful for the way this community has rallied on behalf of this institution and the students. . . . This [facility] is a true difference maker, and what I love about it is that it captures the essence of what makes UVU so special.”

NUVI Basketball Center exterior on a sunny day

The new building creates more cohesion among the team — players can come in at any time to play, and coaches can see everyone who comes in from their offices on the second floor. The space isn’t shared with any other groups or sports. The high-tech court has sensors hanging from the ceiling that work with GPS chips in each athlete’s shoe to track every shot and record statistics, providing valuable feedback on the athletes’ progress.

When Joonas returned to campus this August, the NUVI Basketball Center was complete, with its dedicated basketball court for practice and its weight room specifically designed for taller athletes. What does he think of it? “It’s amazing. The NUVI Center makes it a lot easier to prepare for competition,” he says.

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