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Brooks: First Trip To Pauley, Reflections On Wooden

Jan 30, 2015

Game Notes

LOS ANGELES - I don't have a long bucket list . . . simple man, simple mind, even simpler tastes. But on my short list long before bucket preceded it was making a trip to Pauley Pavilion and Westwood, where the Wizard once worked.

I've been a John Wooden fan since the mid-1960s, when he began his transformation of UCLA basketball and a remarkable run of national championships - 10, including seven straight from 1967-73- that likely will never be matched. As a leaf-green reporter in 1973, I covered that season's Final Four in St. Louis, where then-Memphis State (now the University of Memphis) played UCLA in the championship game.

Wooden had another wonderful team. The Bruins won 87-66, mainly due to an otherworldly shooting performance from a center named Bill Walton, who scored 44 points on 21-of-22 from the field. It's a championship game record I don't believe anyone will ever break, not even someone coached by a guy named Calipari.

The day before the championship game, I was granted (and in no way do I mean to sound ungrateful) an interview with Wooden. As best as I remember it was a short interview, likely littered with whatever general and inane basketball questions I could formulate on short notice.

This I do remember: There was a good bit of stammering from the young scribe. I was in the presence of a hoops icon, and I felt the pressure. Which, I believe, Wooden also sensed. He couldn't have been more accommodating, more gracious. Years later I understood, as much as possible for someone outside the Bruins family, why he was so revered among his players.

And years after that, there was another encounter with Wooden's legacy that left as indelible a mark. A while after settling in Colorado, a friendship was formed with late Buffs football coach Eddie Crowder. We talked frequently and crossed paths periodically at the Boulder YMCA, where one day he offered one of the small wooden pocket crosses he fashioned in his spare time and randomly distributed.

Here's the John Wooden tie: If you remember seeing him coach, his right hand usually clutched a rolled up scoresheet, roster or something close. His left hand more often than not was stuck in the left pocket of his trousers. According to Eddie, Wooden had his fingers on the pocket cross, which centered him and reinforced what was important to him.

I bring these memories up because I visited Pauley Pavilion for the first on Friday when Tad Boyle brought the Buffs in for a midday shootaround. Looking for its first win ever in Westwood, CU plays UCLA on Saturday (8:30 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Networks).

Wondering whether Wooden's memory and Pauley's history were lost on a generation so far removed from the Bruins' heyday, I asked CU freshmen Dom Collier and Tory Miller what both meant to them. Collier called the building "a special place to play," while Miller said of Wooden, "Anybody who plays basketball should be familiar with him. If they're not, shame on them."

Of Pauley, Miller said, "Oh, yeah, it's definitely up there with Cameron Indoors (Duke), the Allen Field Houses (Kansas) of the basketball world. You look up and see (jerseys) of Bill Walton, Abdul-Jabbar . . . there's a lot of things here you notice, a lot of history for sure. Anybody who's been a basketball fan looks forward to these types of venues."

But Pauley, finished for the 1964-65 season, isn't Wooden's Pauley. Eleven men's national championship banners - Jim Harrick accounted for the one that Wooden didn't - adorn the rafters, but I'm told that aside from the name the new arena has little in common with its predecessor. There have been attempts to personalize the place and pay homage to Wooden and the All-Americans who have played here.

"Wooden-isms" such as, "Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character," and "Be at your best when your best is needed" are etched in prominent places on the concourse. But having never seen the original, I don't think characterizing the remake as a Hollywood facelift gone bad is a stretch. (No pun intended.)

Boyle agreed, kind of. "This place is iconic," he said. "They only hang national championship banners - no conference championship banners. That in itself is pretty special."

But Boyle, too, remembers his first visit to Pauley in the mid-90s as a bit of a downer. An Oregon assistant at the time, Boyle recalls the Ducks busing across campus for a Saturday game in mid-February and passing students tossing Frisbees in 75-degree weather. "Then you get here (Pauley) and it wasn't the basketball atmosphere I had envisioned," he said. "I came in and looked around and it was kind of dingy . . . and kind of disappointing at tipoff."

In retrospect maybe dingy is desirable. The "new Pauley," renovated in 2011-12, "feels like an NBA arena more than a college arena," Boyle said. "The fans are not on top of you. UCLA is a special place, there's no question about it. They can still recruit based on those four letters. But in terms of game-time atmosphere, I'll take the Coors Events Center any night. I really would."

Having no personal basis for comparison with the Pauley of Wooden's day, I can't help but think the new building is more sterile and buttoned down, maybe the kind of place you'd expect Steve Alford to work. The Bruins are averaging right at 7,000 fans, with crowds drifting toward 12,000 on occasion this season.

Saturday night's attendance could receive a bump from the Bruins' 69-59 upset of No. 11 Utah on Thursday night. While that was happening, the Buffs were toiling across town in triple overtime at USC. CU won 98-94, making Friday nearly a day of recovery after 55 minutes of basketball.

Friday's practice at Pauley featured some shooting, some sweating and mostly recuperation. Boyle jokingly said earlier in the morning that most of the day's heavy work would be done by trainer Rawley Klingsmith. The Buffs came out of Thursday night's marathon with no more than usual wear-and-tear, but that might have been exacerbated by the length of the game.

Plus, more attention was given by Klingsmith on Friday to wing Jaron Hopkins, who sat out Thursday night with a sore ankle. Hopkins' status is likely to be determined prior to tipoff.

The Buffs are 0-6 against the Bruins in games played in Westwood and trail in the series 8-2. But one of CU's two wins came earlier this month in Boulder (62-56) and was the Buffs' first in five games against the Bruins since signing on in the Pac-12.

Saturday night could be historic for the Buffs, but Boyle is more concerned with continued player development, overall improvement and winning a second consecutive road contest. Good memories to take from a place where basketball and one very special coach have made lots of them.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU