A court of their own

Competing for basketball recruits with larger schools that have rich athletic traditions was made easier for South Florida on Wednesday, courtesy of a $3 million donation by USF alumni Leslie and Pam Muma.

The donation – which was announced by Athletic Director Doug Woolard and USF President Judy Genshaft at a press conference – will go toward the development and construction of a new basketball center.

To show her gratitude for the Mumas’ donation – as well as their previous donations that total more than $15 million – Genshaft announced the new facility will be named the Leslie and Pamela Muma Basketball Center.

“I want to express my sincere appreciation to Les and Pam Muma for their outstanding investment in our program,” Woolard said. “Their willingness to step up and take the lead on this project will change the face of USF basketball forever.”

Leslie and Pamela Muma graduated from USF in 1966. Leslie went on to co-found Fiserv Inc, a financial technology firm. Since his retirement, the Mumas have been active in helping USF expand in several areas.

In 2006, the Mumas donated $6 million to USF and Tampa General Hospital. The money went toward the school’s research and care for newborn babies.

“Les and I both love and are committed to the growth of the University of South Florida,” Pam Muma said. “A mere 44 years ago, we were walking these pathways here as students. Today, we still find ourselves walking these pathways, only now they are very different than they were back then.”

The discussions about donating money had been serious for two months, though preliminary discussions began over a year ago.

“To get this done, I had to get Pam convinced,” Leslie Muma said. “After I gave her a tour of (the Athletics) building and Stan (Heath)’s office, that turned the corner.”

Another debate among the Mumas was the decision to announce their donation.

“There was a debate about whether or not to announce it now, or do we wait until we raise more money,” Leslie said. “We just felt like announcing it now would help raise more money.”

The total cost of the new facility is projected to be between $9 million and $11 million, Woolard said.

Woolard and the Mumas were optimistic that the facility could be completed before the 2009-2010 season.

“I’d like to start tomorrow,” Woolard said. “We would certainly like to get this not only started, but get it completed as soon as we can. It’ll be a first-class facility, that’s for certain.”

Two individuals who will see an immediate impact from Wednesday’s announcement are men’s basketball coach Stan Heath and women’s coach Jose Fernandez.

“This is going to be huge for both the men’s and women’s basketball programs,” Heath said. “This facility will help us bring in the type of players that will take these programs to the next level.”

Fernandez – who will enter his eighth season as women’s basketball coach in the fall – has dreamed about a new basketball center since he was hired.

“I thought this day would never come,” Fernandez said. “We’ve got to thank Les and Pam for their generosity and what this building means. This is the type of building that will help us bring in the recruits we need to compete in the Big East.”

Leslie Muma realized how much the facility meant to Fernandez.

“This just means so much to Jose,” Muma said. “He and the women’s team have done a great job without (a practice facility), but he knows that this facility will help him take the next step, so he was really emotional about it.”