My Week at Pauley Pavilion
Once upon a very long time ago, as a young sports information director at an unheard of Division 2 university outside Chicago, I got to travel with the team for their Christmas week trip to Bakersfield.
Keep in mind nobody actually goes to Bakersfield on purpose. We were going to spend as little time there as humanly possible — on the way out we even slept on the concourse at LAX to avoid another night there (we were actually probably out of money). So the first three days of the trip before taking a savage beat down at the hands of then Division 2 power Cal State-Bakersfield were spent in Los Angeles.
The trip was great — other than the beatdown — we went to Disneyland (taking with us one player who had never really been out of Chicago, so his reaction was incredible), ate at a couple of great restaurants and got to watch a taping of the Jay Leno Show (our coach’s brother was a writer for an NBC sitcom at the time). But what I have always remembered most from that trip was how we were treated at Pauley Pavilion.
With a three-day stay prior to game night, the team had to find some place to practice. Originally that had been set up with Loyola-Marymount, but less than a month before the trip they cancelled. After frantic calls to schools throughout Southern California, in stepped UCLA. Both of their teams were out of town at Holiday tournaments, so the gym was open.
Walking into Pauley (even pre-renovation) was a semi-religious experience. It was a lot like the first time I ever wandered into Rupp. A quick look at the ceiling says everything you need to know about the place you’re standing in. I remember standing in that famous jump circle in awe of where I had the good fortune to be. I got to jack up a couple of really awful shots and then made way for practice.
And while being on the floor was incredible. It was what happened after practice that has stuck with me the most. We were about to head out with our trainer and an assistant coach (managers didn’t travel. Hell, I’m not even sure we had managers at home) carrying the bags of our practice gear to try to go find a local laundromat so they’d be ready for tomorrow. Just before we left a college kid in UCLA gear came sprinting out onto the floor.
We all kind of thought we had done something wrong. Nope. He wanted the uniforms. They were going to wash them and have them out for us. We told him he didn’t need to do that. He then all but demanded the uniforms. When we rolled in the next morning, they were clean and set out for us in the locker room. It was easily the best our players had ever been treated.
That experience in 1993 — along with an odd childhood love for watching the UCLA-USC football game and the Rose Bowl — is one of the reasons I’ve never hated UCLA the way I generally hate other top teams Kentucky faces. It’s a class program, run — generally — by class people.
I talked to UCLA Associate AD Chris Carlson earlier and told him that story. He thanked me and said “whenever somebody comes to Pauley, they are our guest. It’s been that way since Coach Wooden expected it.”
It reminded me of something Tom Leach said to me when I thanked him once for how great he has always been to me. He gave the credit to Cawood Ledford saying that’s the way Cawood had been with all of them and that local media members all sort of felt like they had a responsibility to carry that forward.
Program culture matters.
It’s about 10 minutes to tipoff of the game that in my eight years of hosting Community Trust Bank Sunday Morning Sports Talk that I am most thankful to have a seat for. Hope it’s a great one between two of the absolute best program’s in the sport’s history.