UCLA Athletics, Basketball and Student Spirit Highlighted on ESPN.com

Feb. 1, 2008

Reprinted from ESPN.com

Editor's note: In honor of Student Spirit Week, ESPN.com asked a UCLA student columnist to write about his school's spirit.

Everywhere you look on campus, you see it.

You see it on sweatshirts, banners, backpacks, at the center of Nell and John Wooden Court in Pauley Pavilion.

It's a slogan that has come to personify UCLA, to wrap up the legacy of the university into two words and a three-digit number: First to 100.

First to 100 national championships, that is.

Last spring, the women's water polo team defeated Stanford 5-4, making it an even 100 for UCLA. A host of parades, television spots and apparel followed the win to honor the historic achievement.

And in the midst of all the student spirit and spontaneous cheers that engulfed the campus afterward, one could clearly understand an undeniable truth: UCLA defines athletic excellence.

No other university in the nation has more national championships than UCLA.

The list of former Bruins players is legendary: Jackie Robinson, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Bill Walton, Troy Aikman, Reggie Miller and on and on.

And there is no team that better represents and personifies the extraordinary achievements of UCLA athletics than the men's basketball team:

• 11 national championships

• 41 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including 17 Final Four appearances

• 94-34 record in NCAA Tournament games for an incredible .734 winning percentage

• 29 conference championships

• And for good measure, an NIT championship.

It's easy to look at the numbers and see the program has had a great amount of success since its inception.

But to truly grasp the tremendous legacy of the Bruins, you need to step on campus, walk into Pauley Pavilion and watch a game. Only then can you fathom the sheer excellence that is UCLA men's basketball.

I now give to you the five things that make UCLA basketball great.

1. John WoodenWithout John Wooden, UCLA basketball would not have the tremendous success that it has had. It would not be the storied program that it is today if Wooden had never come to Westwood.

A casual glance at the numbers that he and his teams put up tell you all you need to know about what excellence in sports truly is.

Wooden recorded the incredible overall record of 885-203 (.813 percentage), including a record of 620-147 during his 27 years as head coach at UCLA.

The Wizard of Westwood won 10 of the program's 11 national championship, including seven in a row from 1966-73.

His teams set an NCAA record of consecutive wins (88) over a span of four seasons. He is the only coach to have four 30-0 seasons. And during his time at UCLA, his teams were 149-2 at Pauley Pavilion.

But as strange as it may seem, Wooden's greatest legacy and impact was not what he achieved on the court; it's what he has done away from the game in the lives of players and everyday people that has made the deepest impression.

And that is what is so great about the man. Even at the age of 97, Wooden's presence is continually felt throughout the community.

He continues to play an active role in the lives of student-athletes. He routinely talks to players about how to handle themselves not only as athletes but as people, preparing them for life after college, and emphasizing to them that there is more to life than what happens during a game.

He has shaped young, wild college kids into respectable men. If you need proof, all you need to do is take a look at Bill Walton.

And athletes aren't the only ones whose lives have been touched and impacted by Wooden. He has written books on the importance of living a good life, on being a friend to all, on being the best person that you can be.

Wooden is not only the face of UCLA men's basketball; he is the face of UCLA.

2. Pauley PavilionThe place that Wooden built. The Mecca of college basketball.

Now, others might point to Cameron Indoor Stadium or Rupp Arena as the greatest venue in college basketball. But last time I checked, neither of those places has 11 national championship banners hanging from the rafters.

Banners aren't put up in Pauley for a mere conference championship or tournament appearance; banners are reserved for national championships only.

Nothing equals the aura surrounding Pauley. From the moment that you take one step inside, you feel the awesome presence of something great, something extraordinary.

It's humbling to watch games on the same court that greats such as Alcindor, Walton and Miller have played on many years ago. I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to have one of the greatest and most historic venues in all of sports only a 15-minute walk away.

Every time I take in a game and let the historic nature of Pauley wash over me, as cliché as it may sound, chills run up and down my spine. The years have taken their toll on Pauley in the physical sense, but that hasn't tarnished the sense of distinction I feel when I walk through the door.

3. The DenThe Den is the official student section of UCLA. Before the school year begins, students pay money for season tickets for football and men's basketball games. All who sign up receive a ticket to every home football game because the Rose Bowl has enough seats to occupy all students who purchase season-ticket plans.

However, men's basketball is a little different. Due to the enormous popularity of the team and the relatively small size of Pauley, each student's name is put into a lottery. Names are then picked at random with the opportunity to receive one of three plans:

1. The Blue Package. With this package, the student receives a ticket for all of the home nonconference games and half of the home Pac-10 schedule.

2. The Gold Package. With this package, the student receives a ticket for all of the home nonconference games, and a ticket for the other half of the home Pac-10 games.

3. The Blue & Gold Package. For those lucky souls, this package contains a ticket for the entire home schedule.

Yet there are some whose names are not drawn and receive no tickets at all. But fortunately for them, you are not tied to your specific plan for the entirety of your college experience. A new lottery is held every year.

But if you're one of the lucky few, you're still not guaranteed a courtside seat. Only 500 students are allowed in the lower tier for games. Suffice it to say, these are coveted spots.

To determine who can sit on the floor, a sign-up list is posted outside Pauley about 48 hours before tip-off. Students can put their name and the name of one other person on the list to receive a priority ticket to the floor seats.

I have seen legions of fellow students forego class, showers and the comfort of sleeping in one's own bed for as long as a week, just so they can be there when the list is put up.

But just because your name is on the list, that doesn't mean you can leave and come back for the game and sit in the coveted section. The Den leaders do periodic roll calls in which they read off the names on the list. At least one member of your party must be there at all times. If you or your friend is not there when roll call happens, everyone yells 'So long chief' and both names are crossed off the list.

On the morning of the game, the Den leaders pass out the tickets according to your number on the list. Then, and only then, are you allowed to leave.

If you wish not to go through the ritual necessary to get a seat on the floor, there is a student section on the second level of Pauley that you can watch the game from.

While the ritual may seem harsh, unnecessary or over the top, it is well worth it. There isn't an atmosphere in all of sports as passionate, as loud or as crazy as a UCLA men's basketball game on the floor of Pauley Pavilion. I have never experienced anything like it.

The best part is that the Den is truly a community. All Bruins fans are welcome, from the longtime fans who know all the stats, to the first-time freshmen just learning about the whole experience.

The Den is a place where you can throw all your inhibitions to the wind and be yourself -- your wild, crazy, sports-loving self.

4. CheersThe most famous and most often used is the eight-clap. The eight-clap is a cheer in which you clap eight times, then spell out U-C-L-A while clapping three times in-between each letter. You then spell out UCLA again but with no claps and finish with 'Fight, fight, fight!' This cheer is done not only at basketball games, but at every athletic event. Chances are, you will do about 30 eight-claps at one game. And strangely, it never gets old.

Another cheer is Roll Call. During shootaround, The Den shouts out the name of each player one at a time until you get their attention and they wave to you. It's a way to pump up the players and give them the credit they deserve.

5. Ben HowlandLast, but certainly not least, is Ben Howland.

He has turned the program around after it floundered in the abyss of mediocrity for a decade.

He has restored the legacy that is UCLA basketball, advancing to the Final Four in consecutive seasons.

He has not done it through flashy play or a high-scoring offense. He has done it much the same way Wooden did it: through attention to detail and hard-nosed defensive play.

Howland is revered on campus, adored by fans and alumni alike in a manner that no one else is. In fact, right after Karl Dorrell was fired as football coach, the joke on campus was that Howland should take over the job.

There are even hundreds of 'Howland is my Homeboy' T-shirts around campus.

These are just a few of the things that make UCLA the great university that it is. My words cannot fully describe the legacy and athletic tradition of UCLA. To truly experience what I can only hope my words have done justice to, come to Westwood and walk around campus. Maybe then you will start to see the greatness I've been talking about.

Andrew Howard is a sophomore at UCLA and an assistant sports editor of the Daily Bruin.

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