Throughout Pauley Pavilion’s 30-month transformation ““ from the groundbreaking ceremony in 2010 to last Friday’s unofficial opening ceremony ““ athletic department officials have prioritized modernizing the facility all while preserving the historic ambiance of the legendary arena.
To officially open the $136-million renovation project, UCLA will nod to the past when the men’s basketball team hosts Indiana State today, because Indiana State can, in a way, claim a stake in UCLA’s rich basketball tradition.
Before coach John Wooden was racking up national championships in Los Angeles, he was essentially running the athletic department at Indiana State Teachers College, now known as Indiana State. Not only was Wooden the men’s basketball coach, he also coached the baseball team, served as athletic director and taught coaching classes all while working toward a master’s degree in education.
Now, 66 years after Wooden began his coaching career in Terre Haute, Ind., the only other team Wooden ever led will be the first to play on the reincarnated Nell and John Wooden Court with Wooden’s newly minted statue keeping watch outside.
“Everything in UCLA basketball relates back to John R. Wooden,” said UCLA coach Ben Howland.
The trip down memory lane ends there for Howland. He can’t afford to let his mind wander too far from the present as he’s feeling the heat to vault UCLA’s program back to the level it was performing at in the Wooden era.
Something isn’t working for Howland, as UCLA has missed postseason play in two of the last three seasons. This year, he’s turning to a much-heralded group of freshmen and an uncharacteristic up-tempo offense in an attempt to buck the trend.
“It just fits our whole team,” sophomore guard Norman Powell said of the new run-and-gun style. “We’re athletic. We can run the floor. We can hit open shots. It better suits our playing style. It should be fun this year. We should be scoring a lot of points.”
UCLA fans will recall Howland making similar claims in 2010 but reneging as the season wore on. The No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, according to Scout.com, could go a long way toward convincing Howland to keep his promise this season.
Freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad, the crown jewel of the class, is still under NCAA investigation with no known timeline for a decision. Muhammad is also battling a right shoulder strain but Howland said Tuesday that he was “real close” to being healthy.
The chemistry Muhammad shares with fellow freshmen, guard Kyle Anderson and guard Jordan Adams, is undeniable. The trio played together extensively in tournaments before committing to Howland’s program.
“We all know how each other plays and his athleticism and toughness make it easier for everyone else on the floor,” Adams said.
With or without Muhammad, the new-look Bruins will open Pauley Pavilion today against the team that started it all.
“I think we’re ready,” said redshirt junior forward David Wear. “We’re sick of practicing and going over our fast-break offense. We’re excited to actually use it in a game.”