Despite my phobia for driving cars and displeasure for sitting in traffic, I took two trips out to Los Angeles to attend 2 Men’s basketball games at Pauley Pavilion; the December 10th game against the Michigan Wolverines, and again on January 21st; about a month later.
Los Angeles is the kind of city where neighborhood proximity pretty much dictate one’s social habits. Nothing illustrates this more than the location of USC, a little private school across town that you may or may not have heard of. Let’s just say that there aren’t an abundance of BMW dealerships, jewelry shops and banks in the surrounding neighborhood. Once you step off campus at USC you’re officially back in the real world. Trojans students and faculty work in a cocoon are in a world unto themselves, while UCLA is like more of a vacuum.
UCLA, a public university; is its own ecosystem, nestled within the exclusive section of town that is Beverly Hills. Westwood has its own choices of movie theatres, eateries (shout out to Fatburger) and banks to the point where its possible that a UCLA student to live in seclusion in relation to the rest of Los Angeles.
I made some rookie mistakes my first go around as a driver there. I didn’t give myself enough leeway and made it to the campus at exactly 7:00 PM for a 7:00 PM tip-off. After paying for parking and jogging to the arena–located in the middle of campus, I had to wait in a yet another long ass line to get inside the frigging building (Los Angelinos are notorious for showing up to sporting events late, and now I understand why).
I typically go to sporting events early because I like to vibe the place out and watch the players get loose for the game. Driving in traffic for two hours and still being late, I walked in Pauley Pavillion irritated; rushing to sit down in my ticket section. The “Oohs” and “Ahhs”of the crowd tormented me with each passing second. I finally sat down in the 200 section (great seats) with the score already 12-14 and four minutes having ran off the clock.
That lesson prepared me for the second time around. I arrived on campus 1.5 hours ahead of the 1 pm tip-off. I had enough time to park, walk over to Kinross to grab a Fatburger, and walk back to Pauley. With about 30 mins until tip-off, I was surprised to find lines of no more than eight people. This only further proved the theory about people in L.A. unable to get anywhere on time.
You can feel the history within the walls the very second that you enter Pauley Pavillion. Part of UCLA’s mystique is their long and storied history of producing champions and NBA players. You can’t talk about UCLA basketball without mentioning John Wooden, the legendary coach who went on to become one of the biggest ambassadors the game of basketball has ever had.
At UCLA, Wooden won 10 national titles–once with a run of 88 straight wins that lasted 3 seasons. Wooden, arguably the greatest college coach of all time, was known as much for his words of wisdom as he was for his coaching accomplishments. The man created what is known as the Pyramid of Success (there is model replica glass display in the arena concourse), a chain of philosophical guidelines that he used to help his players. John Wooden was just as much of an instructor as he was a coach. His approach to the game was for his young men to learn the game within the game. He insisted that the true opponent was an internal one and that the only result that mattered was that one played their personal best.
At the program’s peak, many legendary players passed through Westwood. Men such as Jamaal Wilkes, Kareem Abdul Jabbaar, Walt Hazzard, Marques Johnson, Bill Walton, Baron Davis, Gail Goodrich, Sydney Wicks, and Henry Bibby (father of future Wildcat great Mike Bibby) all won under the tutelage of John Wooden.
What I liked most about Pauley Pavillion was the way they’ve meticulously preserved remnants from each era of UCLA basketball. You’re just as likely to run into a banner commemorating Matt Barnes or Reggie Miller as you would a plaque with the image of Bill Walton or Lew Alcindor.
Both games I found myself swept up in the mirth and excitement. The arena is well lit with hardly a bad location among the 13,000 plus seats. The court sports a classically simple design, displaying the blue and gold UCLA letters in cursive at half court. There is a bigger than usual student section from both behind one of the baskets and along the sideline opposite the bench. The band loudly and proudly played the UCLA fight song and the crowd took direction from the cheer team U!!! C!!!! L!!!! A!!!!!!!
I’ve gone off before about how beautiful the UCLA cheerleaders are (they look like grown ass women. One pair of beauties passed me in the concourse at the Zona game. I geeked out for a brief second before I remembering that I was 40 yrs old.), but what equally impresses me are the complexity of their routines. I suspect that these young ladies are dancing as if they are auditioning for the Lakers dance team (in L.A. you never know who could be in the stands). Makes you wonder what the future holds for some of these young ladies. I would believe any scenario thrown out there: Doctor, lawyer, NBA dancer, Playboy Bunny, reality housewife, porno star–the whole spectrum comes into play.
UCLA fans, both young and old, proudly wore their blue and gold strolling the concourse, looking for the nearest restroom or vendor stand. I passed many older fans for whom it was obvious that they’d had season tickets for generations. Los Angeles is a huge city full of transplants so it shouldn’t have surprised me (but it did) to see so many Arizona and Michigan fans/alums in the crowd at these games. These fans would manage to find their voices during the other teams’ runs, but would always eventually get drowned out by the chorus of “UCLA” chants.
The game against Arizona was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Day at UCLA, and he spoke to the crowd at halftime. Jabbar was honored for winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I got chills being in the same building as one of the greatest basketball champions of all time. He was greeted with applause as he was escorted to his courtside seat–everyone instinctively stood in reverence to such basketball royalty.
There has been a buzz surrounding the squad this year. They have been a top 10 team all season; which explains the electricity floating in the Westwood air–and its not just the drones and cell phone towers.
The team consistently won during Ben Howland era. UCLA went to three Final Fours under Howland and put a slew of pro players into the NBA, but even with future superstars like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, their wins were from a “grind it out,” Big East style of play. They weren’t exactly a fun team to watch.
This current outfit that head coach Steve Alford is in charge of handling is easily the most exciting team since the mid-90’s Tyus Edney/Ed Obannon/Toby Bailey Bruins teams. The up and down style of play of those teams was frenetic and above the rim (they gave the Fab Five all they could handle during the 93 NCAA tournament). I imagine their exciting run would have been even longer had they given a scholarship to local high school phenom Paul Pierce rather than center Jelani McCoy (who to be fair wasn’t a bad player, but he was no Paul Pierce)–Pierce grew up in Inglewood and wanted to play for the Bruins (I just lost my mind for a second spacing out on a 1997 alternate reality with Paul Pierce catching oops from Baron Davis and vice versa. WOW!!!!!).
Aside Note: Speaking of Baron Davis, he was in attendance at the Michigan game. Bruins games have their own version of “celebrity row” with the arena cameras zooming in on the faces of Peter Dante and “Hills Street Blues” legend Mike Warren. I was secretly hoping to run into Jalen Rose at the game, but my tardiness erased any expectations that I had concerning the game. If he was there, I didn’t see him on the Jumbotron.
Coach Alford employs a run and gun system that emulates the Spurs and Warriors motion offenses. Seniors Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford (Steve’s son) anchor the team with their leadership while the youngsters, Aaron Holiday (brother of NBA guards Justin and Jrue) and freshman phenoms T.J. Leaf (who kind of reminds me of an 18 year old Nick Collison) and Lonzo Ball bring flash, height and speed for defenses to contend with.
The team relies on defense and rebounding from big men, Ike Anigbogu, (had 4 really impressive blocks in the Michigan game), and Thomas Welsh.
Pro scouts are drooling the most over Ball. When people say that he reminds them of Jason Kidd, I see it. He is a 6’6 light skinned point guard with incredible court vision. He is a better shooter than Jason Kidd was in college (he’s a threat to shoot it from nearly anywhere on the court), but I am not sure how the form on his shot will translate in the pros (perhaps he’ll find a shot doctor like Kawhi Leonard did in Chip Engelland).
The other night against Oregon, Ball hit a dagger three from deep behind the line that I’m almost certainly would have gotten blocked in the NBA. Though I wouldn’t get too caught up on his shooting form if I worked for any NBA team scouting him. Jason Kidd could barely shoot free throws when he first got to the league, but he ended his career in the top ten of all time 3 point shots made.
My only (albeit mild) critiques was that he tended to rely on his dribble too much sometimes and would get stuck in the air because he’d penetrated too far into the paint. Somehow he’d get bailed out with a spectacular pass to an open teammate, but again, the kind of passes that are spectacular in the college game become turnovers in the NBA against better athletes and defenders. He will be a lottery pick, as there is no reason for him to come back to school (other than playing with his younger brothers again). Any development he needs for the next level will have to be gained from on the job training.
UCLA is stacked with talent, but their perimeter defense is suspect. In their loss to Arizona, the U of A guards, Kobi Simmons, Kadeem Allen and Allonzo Trier, got to the rack anytime they wanted AND when UCLA collapsed the paint, they kicked the ball out for someone to hit an open 3 pointer. Seven Wildcats players were in double figures and Kadeem Allen was only 1 point away from it being 8 players.
The Arizona game showed what can happen to the Bruins when they don’t make their 3 pointers and can’t get any points in the paint. I’m curious what happens in their rematch later this month (‘Zona may be the most balanced team in the county right now).
UCLA has the depth to go far in the tournament. They are fast and can get up and down the court, routinely scoring in the 100’s. Their downfall will be their defense however. At some point this season the Bruins will need to make a crucial stop in a game. The question is will they be able to?
Either way, it is good to see UCLA basketball is exciting again. It is easy to be happy for these fans and I’m glad they have a reason to be excited. Nothing connects the fanbases of different eras more than winning and tradition, and you’ll find plenty of both at UCLA.
Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to email@example.com.
Basketball season has only been over for a couple of weeks, but for anyone who suffers from the “Jones” as badly as I do, there are remedies. I’ve been traveling a great deal for the past month, but anytime I hit a lull, I go to the NCAA Vault and pull up an old game–usually from the 2002-2003 era.
Why that time period? Well in my honest opinion, I think it was the golden age of Big 12 basketball. The Big 12 was littered with big name coaches. Kelvin Sampson was over at Oklahoma coaching Hollis Price and Quannis White.
Eddie Sutton had some great players at Oklahoma State in John Lucas III, Tony Allen, Ivan McFarlin, the Graham brothers, Desmond Mason (a few years before), and Victor and Andre Williams.
Rick Barnes had some guy named T.J. Ford who is only the best point guard in UT history. Lastly, you have Roy Williams coaching at Kansas (they had some sweet uniforms those years).
It is no secret that the 2002-2003 team was one of my favorite college basketball teams of all time. Watching that squad get up and down the court was a thing of beauty with the backcourt of Aaron Miles and “Captain” Kirk Hinrich (Wichita States’s Ron Baker and Fred Van Fleet kinda low key remind me of them).
Keith Langford is one of my all time favorite wing players. He was dazzling and flashy, but he was also almost always in control. “K-freeze” just got buckets, and could finish once he got to the rim. Don’t let me get started on Nick Collison. We’ll get to him in a second.
For those of you tapping that vein, and in need of some good ass games to watch, I give you the best five Kansas Jayhawks games from 2002-2003. Honorable mention goes to this match from the 2001-2002 season affectionately know as the Juan Dixon game.
Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich go out in style vs. the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Definitely worth the stop in, even though the clip ends pre-maturely. You also get to see glimpses of Tony Allen’s world class NBA defense in this game and see why he has become such a good pro.
This is one of the best, most intense regular season games you will ever watch. I remember it like it was yesterday. Texas and Kansas were in the top 5 that year; both having lost to Arizona (a team that everyone thought was going to win it all that year).
T.J. Ford puts on a clinic in this week, and almost willed UT to a Big Monday win in Allen Fieldhouse, but Nick Collison put up a nasty double-double; taking James Thomas to school, before fouling out after the game was already in hand. It is as beautiful now as it was to watch live.
With Duke’s weak ass front line that year, I knew the Jayhawks would do well in the paint, but how many people expected Collison to put up a 30-20 night? There were many reasons to hate Duke back then. Dahntay Jones (who I’m shocked to find had one of the highest scoring averages in that tournament–look it up if you don’t believe me. It was something crazy like 24.6 pts) was a star on that team.
Sheldon Williams was a poor man’s Carlos Boozer (that isn’t meant to be as harsh as it sounds. Boozer was pretty nasty in college and was a big reason why they won it in 2001). J.J. Redick was always great until he got to the big stage and had to play against taller and faster players. Anyway, Collison carried them to victory that game, because Hinrich didn’t play all that well in that game.
Despite the outcome, this was a good ass game. Kansas had no business being as far behind as they were. I feel like Roy Williams got outcoached in this one. After Keith Langford picked up his second foul guarding Carmelo Anthony, I would have switched it up, gone zone or put Michael Lee on him.
Langford was too important for their offense going against Syracuse’s 2-3. He made it a lot easier for them to get buckets with his passing and penetration. Sure he picked up a phantom foul that disqualified him during “winning time”, but he shouldn’t have been put in that position to begin with.
The Jayhawks also shot less than 50 % on the free throw line. Everyone on Syracuse had big moments in the biggest game, while the moment seemed a bit too big for Kansas. Even though Syracuse was slightly deeper, I still to this day think that if the teams played a best of 7 series, then KU would have won 5 of those 7 games.
This is also why I cannot in good conscience put this as # 1. Its a shame that this was the last college game for Hinrich and Collison, because I’d have liked to have seen them go out winners. Even though Kansas lost the title game, they were anything but losers. They came out of arguably the toughest conference that year, and the road they took just to get to the title game was extremely difficult.
Which brings us to #1 The Arizona Game
Arizona was the best team all year that season, and they were heavy favorites. They had beaten Texas and Kansas already that year and they were deep. Future NBA champions Andre Iguodala and Luke Walton were key cogs on that unit, along with Jason Gardner, Salim Stoudamire, and Rick Anderson. Plus, Lute Olson was doing some of his best coaching.
This was the game to be nervous about. Kansas played a great team game and pulled it out, but it was a nail biter. It was a good ass game (Just one of many good ass games that tournament). If I were to recommend any of these five, I’d say jump on this one first. But they all good ass games if you ask me. This was a special year, and you could look up at least 20 games from that year’s tournament and by halftime you’ll be saying, “Damn. This a GOOD ASS GAME.”
Big win for the Jayhawks the other night. The start of conference play and their latest mini-swoon lend to a visible increase of intensity for Oklahoma. They played like they were tired of losing, with Selden leading the way with 15 early points in the first half.
I liked the aggression, the Jayhawks were still making mistakes, but they were not lackadaisical. This was important to see because Oklahoma (and every team they will face the rest of the season) is capable of beating them. It almost happened too. Cameron Clark put on a show the other night, putting up 32 points. I was very impressed with his game, and he was so hot at one point, that I was surprised whenever anyone but him shot the ball. Nevertheless, OU is a jump shooting team, and KU put the ball inside when they needed to, with Perry Ellis putting up a very quiet 22 points and 11 rebounds. OU is probably NIT bound, but they are still a lot to handle. They didn’t quit and played to the final whistle. Respect.
It may take until the end of the season before this team gels into the collection of players everyone (including me) envisioned. There may be some clunkers, and ugly wins, but if they have some grit, then another conference title can be won. Jayhawks fans will have to endure the growing pains. I’m still not altogether sure if this season is only the build up for next year. Inexperience could be their fatal flaw in this year’s tournament.
Some random thoughts before I go:
I wonder how well a lineup of Connor Frankemp, Brandon Greene,Wiggins, Selden, and Embiid would play together. That’s a line-up that could really spread the floor against the right team. I wonder if Self will unveil that combination any during these next few games.
It seems like any combination Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas, and Tarik Black at power forward and center will result in an extravaganza of outside shots and 3 second violations. The Jayhawks get slower and more predicable on offense when this clunky lineup is on the floor. It can get ugly sometimes.
I love watching Jayhawks games at the bar for the atmosphere as much for the game. Streaming it on the laptop and projecting it on the wall can be just as nice–especially when I’m trying to save money. One of my favorite things about streaming is the random channels that you end up on. For some reason commercials don’t seem quite as mundane and annoying when they are in Russian.
I have a hunch that Wiggins will unleash the beast for a game or two during this upcoming stretch. I could see it being in Ames; in a hostile environment. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was next Saturday against Oklahoma State. It might be a few years until Wiggins finally gets a hold of what Deion Sanders referred to as “his dog”. It took Kevin Durant losing the Western Conference Finals to fully embrace that nasty streak. I’ve noticed it come out when someone pisses Wiggins off, but he hasn’t quite harnessed that viciousness yet.
If Jamari Traylor decides to focus on passing, rebounding, setting screens, and defense, he will find himself with plenty of playing time. Traylor’s offensive game is not the most polished, but if he makes up his mind that he would focus on the above things and get garbage points when they arrived, Self would have trouble keeping him off the floor.
There seems to be a lack of a discernible defensive leader on this team;someone who sets the tone for the team, and makes sure everyone has their assignments. Part of this may be from a lack of cohesion; having not played together enough. This concerns me because the team is putting up points but still giving them up as well. It’s nice to know when you are on the road, in a hostile environment, that you can get a stop on defense whenever you need one.
I’m liking what is going on out in Wichita. I watched a game the other night on TV and decided I’m going to have to make a trip there. I like the team’s makeup and I like their coach Gregg Marshall. This team reminds me of those Butler squads that went back to back Final Fours. I think this team is good enough to make it to the championship game. If they were to play Kansas tomorrow, I would favor them to beat KU. KU has a more talented roster, but right now Wichita State is the better team (in fact, if the tournament started next week, I would not feel confident this KU squad had what it took to get past the sweet sixteen).
I like Wichita’s Ron Baker (in my opinion almost a good of a passer as Luke Walton). I like their point guard Fred VanFleet, I like Cleanthony Early, and I like Nick Wiggins (who is more of a grinder than his brother). It feels like there is something special going on right now in Wichita. It may not last longer than this season, but it is worth keeping an eye on.
I saw the “U” play UNC the other night. They really miss Shane Larkin, but I could easily see them making some noise by next year (this year, NIT bound). I have liked Jim Larranaga since his George Mason days, and Miami is lucky to have such a good player’s coach.
I need to see more Victor Oladipo. The backcourt of Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, and Oladipo is almost worth watching Orlando Magic games. I’m not crazy about the point guard experiment with Oladipo, but I think he will be a great 2 guard. He is athletic and a great defender He definitely has that “dog” harnessed. I may go on to regret saying this, but he seems to have that nasty streak that Jordan had in him. What if Orlando lucked into a lottery pick and got Embiid, Parker, or Julius Randle? Any of those 3 players with Oladipo and Afflalo would put the Eastern conference on notice; something else to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Louisville’s Russ Smith and Chris Jones may be the best backcourt east of Cameron Indoors. They are explosive.
UCLA games at Pauley Pavillion look like the pick to click. You know UCLA hoops is back when you see NBA stars going to the games on their night off. Doc Rivers, Steve Nash, Phil Jackson, and Baron Davis were all in attendance for the UCLA-Arizona game.
Last night’s game was very fun to watch. I would be surprised if there were less than 6 future NBA players from this game. UCLA has a tendency to put guys in the NBA who went on to have better pro careers than college. I think Kyle Anderson is going to be the rawest of anybody who played in this game. With his height and his handles, and his ability to finish, he could be the next Penny Hardaway. He could leave now and get drafted pretty high, but it may serve him well to stay another year in college. Unfortunately UCLA is a first half team. They played two entertaining first halves against Duke and Arizona. The second half of both games they would lose focus for long stretches of time with bad shots and careless turnovers. That being said, they will make for a very watchable NIT run.
Arizona looks like a very balanced team. I like the backcourt of Nick Johnson and A.J. McConnell. Aaron Gordon made me to squeal a couple times last night after throwing it down.
If there is a school with better looking basketball cheerleaders than UCLA, I’d love to attend a game there. Wow! I thought KU had some great looking cheerleaders. I’d take UCLA’s stable over half the squads in the NBA. Much respect.
UCLA has some sweet uniforms. Classic.
I forgot how much I miss Bill Walton’s musings and rambling. What a great ambassador for the game of basketball. Reading his autobiography “Nothing But Net” was a real influence on my love for the game. His affection and enthusiasm for the game is contagious.
We’ll see if there is any momentum tomorrow against the K-State Wildcats who won a share of the Big 12 conference title last year. They beat Oklahoma State last Saturday so this will be interesting. One thing for sure, there will be some intensity tomorrow–all day long. Bring on the weekend.