Perhaps the only person more excited than Irving city officials to attend the July 20 hard hat tour of the new Drive Nation sports complex was the facility’s owner, Jermaine O’Neal.
“Obviously it’s been a long process to get to this point,” O’Neal said. “It’s taken a lot of long nights and a lot of long days, and to be honest, a lot of people thought it couldn’t be done.”
That process began two years ago, when the five-time NBA All-Star received a call from his Cowboys season ticket account manager. O’Neal was unsure if he was going to renew his tickets, because he had been struggling to get his sports complex idea off the ground in Keller, Texas. His account manager connected him with John Terrell, Vice President of Commercial Development at DFW International Airport and former Mayor of the city of Southlake.
The game changer, O’Neal admits, was this area panned out both athletically and academically for his daughter. Located off Rental Car Drive near DFW airport, the 85,000 square foot complex is designed for all ages and tailored toward youth athletes. It includes 6 basketball courts, 8 volleyball courts, a turf field, batting cages and pitching tunnels, a sprinting track, weight room, hydrowork training room, as well as offices, team meeting rooms, and a kitchen.
“This is a corporate headquarters,” O’Neal said. “I don’t believe a facility for amateurs should look like a box gym. When they walk through these doors, we want them to feel as if they’re walking into the Cowboys arena, as if they walked into the Mavs headquarters.”
Construction on the $10.4 million, 16-acre youth sports facility started roughly eight months ago and is slated to open in the middle of October.
The complex is managed by Sports Facilities Advisory: Sports Facility Management (SFA and SFM) and focuses on performance training, nutrition, and wellness education. This headquarter facility will incorporate some of the latest sports science and technology including a shot tracker where amateur and professional athletes can monitor their field goal percentages or free throw percentages. O’Neal says the technology is used as a compliment to helping kids grow mentally as well as physically.
“Kids are always going to get bigger, stronger, and faster by nature because they’re getting older, but it’s that mental process that sets you up for everything,” O’Neal said. “If your mentality is all wrong, it doesn’t matter whether you can shoot, dribble, or play the game, so we want to create this environment where life lessons and athletic lessons are the exact same thing.”
At the start of 2016, DFW airport’s commercial real estate team, led by Terrell, informed the city of Irving they had a prospect looking to build a facility within Irving’s city limits. O’Neal’s team was also looking at five other cities including Keller and Frisco.
“Jermaine was looking at other outlying areas,” said Jay Ory, director of business development and marketing for Drive Nation, “but with this being on the Dallas-Fort Worth airport grounds, we thought it would be centrally located to attract not only Dallas-Fort Worth participants from surrounding communities but also out-of-towners that come in for these elite tournaments. Just imagine, you can fly right into DFW airport and there’s a cluster of Irving hotels surrounding the location. It’ll be very easy and convenient for these tournament participants and families to get to Drive Nation.”
Upon hearing of O’Neal’s project, the Irving Chamber of Commerce, city officials, and Irving ISD acted quickly to sit down with O’Neal and the Drive Nation team to learn more about the project.
“Any time we have a business that comes to the city of Irving, we ask them how we can help,” Councilman Dennis Webb said. “It’s their vision, but we want to partner with them and assist, because it’s going to benefit us. We want them to be successful.”
Drive Nation estimates a $13.1 million dollar economic impact for the DFW areas and surrounding communities. The real value, O’Neal says, lies in education and that begins with the parents.
“The parent becomes paralyzing for the kid,” O’Neal said. “They want their kid to be so good, they think their kid is Michael Jordan and the kid can barely dribble. Some people grow early, some people grow late. That’s mentally, physically, emotionally. It’s important for parents to be patient. If the kid is working, don’t drive him or her to the ground where they don’t want to play anymore.”
For at least the first year, O’Neal will serve as the complex’s basketball director.
“I’m a very aggressive personality when it comes to doing it right,” he said. “There’s no concessions to a talented kid that wants special treatment because he or she can play. So we’re going to be as I lead. In order for us to be the best version to get to what we’re trying to do, we’ve got to have great leadership.”
Drive Nation was founded in 2016 by O’Neal in Dallas as a grassroots youth sports organization that also hosts a basketball skills academy and an AAU team. They have partnerships with some of the largest youth sports providers in the country including Nike and AAU, the largest amateur sports organization in the country. By hosting national tournaments including USA volleyball tournaments, AAU tournaments, and Nike EYBL, some of the top high school and college players and coaches in the country will come to the area. That economic drive, Webb said, will help propel other new building projects.
“(This venue) is going to draw people in who then can go to our music factory,” Webb said. “Once they get here, they can go right down the street and visit this world class music factory and entertainment venue.”