It was almost impossible not to look.
At some point during games at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA players would gaze behind the Bruins' bench in hopes of catching a glimpse of the man sitting in Section 103B, Row 2, Seat 1.
That was the spot reserved for John Wooden, a constant presence until his health deteriorated in recent years.
"I definitely looked at him when he was at the games," junior guard Jerime Anderson said. "It's hard not to notice that Coach Wooden is there."
He won't be there Friday, when the Bruins play Cal State Northridge in their first game at Pauley Pavilion since the legendary coach died in June at 99. School officials are leaving Wooden's seat vacant as a tribute to the man who guided UCLA to a record 10 national titles.
UCLA Coach Ben Howland said Wooden didn't attend many games last season because he could no longer walk, but Wooden "was at all the games my first six seasons."
Howland recalled Wooden being besieged for autographs at halftime of games and graciously fulfilling every request. Junior guard Malcolm Lee acknowledged it was difficult knowing that Wooden could no longer offer encouragement.
"That's why we're going into this season in memory of his name and trying to get this team back on the right track," Lee said.
Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson, who sat out the exhibition game against Cal State Los Angeles on Tuesday because of a strained right hip flexor, returned to practice Thursday and is expected to play in the Bruins' season opener.
Freshman guard Matt Carlino, recovering from a concussion sustained earlier in the week, participated in limited practice drills, and his status will be a game-time decision.
Junior guard Lazeric Jones received two stitches in his mouth after being inadvertently struck in the face during practice. He is expected to play against Northridge.