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Is Time Up for Pauley?

Some say the aging facility desperately needs a makeover, while others hang on to nostalgia

February 24, 2005|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

It's old and dusty, and when it rains sewage sometimes backs up. There are no plasma screen TVs or elaborate stereo systems in the locker rooms. The food court is outside.

The men's and women's basketball teams juggle practice times with the men's volleyball team, and there are cavernous spaces between the basket and the bleachers because a certain coach thought it was unsporting to have raucous fans too close to the court.

Though Pauley Pavilion, now in its 40th season, has 11 championship banners hanging from the ceiling -- and a singular 94-year-old legend named John Wooden who sits straight-backed and politely quiet in the stands -- the aging arena's flaws have become difficult for many to ignore, especially at a time when local and national rivals are building modern on-campus arenas.

On the recruiting circuit, UCLA coaches hear from teenagers about Pauley's shortcomings. Former stars are protective of its aura of history, though some acknowledge that its charms have faded. And whether it is because of the building or the team that occupies it, fans have tempered their Wooden-era fervor. Still, renovation efforts have been slow to gain traction.

"It's all about the newest thing with kids," said Ed O'Bannon, one of the stars of the 1995 team, the most recent of UCLA's 11 national champions. "I compare Pauley Pavilion with Madison Square Garden or Boston Garden. It's a little bit of a mecca. You want to say you played at Pauley Pavilion. But do you want to play there every day? I don't know."

USC freshman Gabe Pruitt holds the opinion of many young players. When asked whether Pauley's luster was fading, Pruitt said: "I think so. I don't have that feeling; it's just another arena to me. Pauley is Pauley. It was never this holy place for me."

As late as Wednesday afternoon, tickets were still available for Thursday's game against USC -- an important one for the Bruins, who are barely hanging on to the chance for an NCAA tournament at-large bid. UCLA has sold out only one game at Pauley this season, against Arizona.

Over the last five years, Pac-10 rival Stanford spent $26 million to renovate Maples Pavilion and Washington spent $40 million to renovate Hec Edmundson Pavilion, renaming it Bank of America Arena. Cal tore down Harmon Gym and built Haas Pavilion for $57.5 million. Walter Haas, a former president of Levi Strauss and Co., donated the first $11 million. Oregon has recently spent about $4 million purchasing a bakery near campus in hopes of raising money to replace 80-year-old McArthur Court.

And USC, for several decades the bridesmaid to UCLA in basketball, has begun construction of a $114-million home to escape the musty Sports Arena. Around the country in recent years, large public universities such as Wisconsin and Ohio State have built arenas, while smaller private schools such as Gonzaga and Xavier have raised the money for similar projects. Three years ago, Pittsburgh opened a 12,500-seat court next to a new auxiliary gym, which provides extra practice facilities. The state of Pennsylvania contributed $53 million of the $96-million budget.

"Having the extra practice facilities was great, and kids were really excited about that," said UCLA Coach Ben Howland, who was Pittsburgh's coach at the time. "It is really a beautiful place."

When USC's Galen Center opens in 2006, it will leave Pauley in the bottom half of the conference in terms of modern enhancements with the likes of Washington State, Oregon State and Arizona State -- programs that haven't mattered much in years.

"State-of-the-art type facilities are a recruiting tool, definitely," Fairfax High Coach Harvey Kitani said. "Tradition should still matter too, but it seems as if UCLA should have one of the top places in the Pac-10."

Kitani coached UCLA freshman Josh Shipp and now has 6-foot-7 senior Jamal Boykin, who has committed to play at Duke next year.

"I grew up my whole life rooting for UCLA and Duke," Boykin said. "I've played games at Pauley and I can't count how many times I've watched UCLA games at Pauley and here's what I think: It's not the building. It's the program. If you're winning, it doesn't matter where you play."

Boykin, who said he was not recruited by UCLA, fell in love with Duke partly because of the intense atmosphere inside 65-year-old Cameron Indoor Stadium, which is considered one of the best home-court atmospheres in the country.

"Cameron's not new or fancy," Boykin said, "and it's just great."

But Cameron is not the same place that opened in 1940. In 1987 the concourses and lobbies were renovated. In 1988 a new scoreboard, sound system and wood paneling updated the gym. At the end of the 1997-98 season an adjacent athletic center with new locker rooms, coaches' offices, academic center and Hall of Fame was added.

"The new stuff is great too," Boykin said. "Everybody likes all the newest bells and whistles, no doubt about that."

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