Tipoff time at Pauley Pavilion is approaching.
Spotlights pan up, down and all around the wooden court as music blares loud enough to be heard over thousands of screaming fans. Players erupt through the tunnel, adrenaline pulsing through their fingertips into the basketballs, and the pound of each dribble can be heard as the ball makes contact with the hardwood floor.
The team’s entrance escalates until the players take their sides, waiting for the tipoff. And for a moment it’s quiet – just a moment, though. Few people experience the silent stadium for more than that moment.
But hours prior to every game, a different team – a team of UCLA student managers – files through the locker room doors. One pushes a broom across the legendary floor. Another brings out carts of balls and other equipment. A third begins setting up the scoreboard.
While their job goes unnoticed by most, third-year communication and psychology student Grace Gelone said she and the other UCLA women’s basketball managers love being part of game day at UCLA.
And many of them are taking a first step toward a long career in the sports world.
“Just working for a UCLA sports team in general is a huge benefit because then you’re connected to the UCLA Athletics alumni also, which is really nice,” Gelone said. “I’m sure a lot of them might have a career doing something in sports.”
Gelone has managed UCLA women’s basketball since her first quarter in Westwood. After playing basketball in high school, she was looking for a way to stay involved with a sport she loved.
The Pennsylvania native said she came into the job wanting to be a college basketball coach, so she spent every practice watching coach Cori Close’s every move, learning from one of the best in the country.
“It was just paying attention in practice, picking up on what our key motivations are for each practice,” Gelone said. “It would be making sure we get this many rebounds or that everybody finishes the practices in the red, which is something to do with their heart rate. I just wanted to gain some knowledge on what collegiate basketball is like.”
Gelone said she has sent some of Close’s drills and practice setups home to her dad, who is an Amateur Athletic Union basketball coach.
However, after witnessing firsthand the long hours Close and the other coaches dedicate to their jobs, Gelone said she no longer wants to pursue the occupation herself.
“I admire (the women’s basketball staff) so much because they put in so much time – it’s ridiculous,” Gelone said. “I would love to have coached, but I’ve started looking into other possible things I could do.”
Gelone said she has been considering becoming either a lawyer for a sports team or a sports psychologist at a university – two of the many paths UCLA managers tend to explore.
Second-year political science student Ryan Orlando was hired as a manager for UCLA men’s basketball last fall after deciding to remain close to the sport he played in high school.
“From a pure basketball standpoint, I’ve probably learned more in the last year than I have in my entire life,” Orlando said. “Just about how it works and how the game should be played.”
As a manager, Orlando was required to keep the statistics books during practices and games. The task turned into a passion for the second-year.
Orlando declared a statistics minor soon after joining the team and began considering a future career in data analytics and performance analysis.
“At the very beginning, (the goal was) just to stay involved,” Orlando said. “But now it has definitely developed into something where there are career opportunities, which is great.”
For others, managing a team is solely a way to maintain a relationship with a sport they love.
Third-year political science student Blake Hirst, who managed his high school softball team, was at the airport after visiting Westwood when he ran into UCLA softball. Hirst saw a man with a UCLA softball sweatshirt, asked him about his role with the team – knowing he couldn’t be a player – and eventually reached out to him, looking for a managing position.
“I don’t have that athletic background so I don’t know if I would necessarily try this professionally,” Hirst said. “But I’ve learned so many life skills getting to work with some of the best coaches in the country on a daily basis, getting to practice time management skills in a real workplace environment with the best team in the country.”
Hirst also said the job has connected him with other managers across campus, including Gelone. The two met through Greek life before bonding over their shared love of sports.
Gelone also said she has formed friendships with the other women’s basketball student managers after spending hours together every day and relentlessly cheering on their team.
“I love our manager squad,” Gelone said. “I think we’ve cultivated a good friendship throughout because we’re together in the mornings every day before school and then gameday everybody is so hype.”
Women’s basketball manager Marie Berthiaux, a third-year political science and psychology student, said when they weren’t watching from the sideline, she, Gelone and two other managers competed on an intramural basketball team.
“As a manager, we’re involved in practice and we help in drills in any way we can, but we don’t get into that competitive spirit that we had in high school or middle school or club or whatever we played before,” Berthiaux said. “Having those other manager relationships – even if they don’t play basketball, it’s still fun.”
When they’re not competing, the managers are still working as a team.
“We all complement each other really well as far as our skill sets,” Gelone said. “Everybody’s on the same page and we have a good time and joke around.”
The buzzer sounds and the fans file out of Pauley Pavilion. The team, coaches and media are soon gone from the court, but the managers are still there.
They continue to work behind the scenes. And it’s a lot of work. But it’s a labor of love.