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Bleeding UCLA Blue

Someone at ESPN finally gets something right - UCLA is the greatest university - well in the universe:

What makes UCLA special? Begin with the directions. To reach most college campuses you take some exit off state Highway 12 or L Street or some such bland arterial. UCLA, however, is listed on a Web site offering directions to homes of the movie stars (James Dean went here, after all) and it says to drive south on Rodeo Drive and turn west on Wilshire Boulevard.

That's good, but an even better way to get here is to be 6-foot-7 with the ability to score from inside the paint or from beyond the arc.

Then there is that little matter of the weather. Gonzaga is so accustomed to cold weather that I arrived there in a snowstorm but nonetheless all the students were wearing shorts.

I arrive at Bruin Plaza on a cloudless day with temperatures in the low to mid-60s with the sky just a shade or two deeper than the Bruins' home jerseys. And yet the students are so spoiled by the climate here that most of them are wearing pants and fleece hoodies. Some are wearing UGG boots. A couple are even wearing scarves.

I keep expecting to see some students build a bonfire, not to celebrate another NCAA appearance, but to huddle around for warmth.


How dominant is the UCLA athletic department? It had at least 50 athletes at the 2004 Olympics and its alumni have won approximately 100 gold medals in Olympic history.

And it's not just the sheer quantity that's overwhelming, it's the quality. Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Arthur Ashe, Jackie Joyner-Kersee ... they all walked the palm tree-lined paths here. Just when you finish studying the John Wooden trophy case and figuring collegiate legends don't get any bigger than that, you see that the next case is devoted to Jackie Robinson.


And if you want college basketball, well, there is no place better.

I've been to Kansas, Duke and North Carolina, but for someone who grew up on the West Coast during the '60s and '70s, college basketball's holy land will always be Westwood. Forty-one-year-old Pauley Pavilion may lack the Hoosiers-like charm of Allen Fieldhouse or Cameron Indoor Stadium, but it's magical walking in and seeing all those national championship banners hanging there like a Lew Alcindor sky hook. I feel the urge to kneel and face the basket for morning and afternoon prayers, or at least for an eight-clap.

I know other schools may have larger, more passionate fan bases these days, but then again, UCLA students have better things to do than camp outside the gym in a smelly tent for two months solid (like, hello? the beach?). But they camp out here too, and were doing it long ago, when Mike Krzyzewski's haircut was considered rather stylish.

As USC fans would be only too happy to tell you, the Bruins haven't hung a basketball championship banner from the rafters in a decade. But they're a No. 2 seed this week and hopes are high. "This is the start of the dynasty,'' Rose says. "If we don't win it this year, we'll win it next year.''

I could go on, but I need to finish up before someone reports me to the NCAA for recruiting violations. Besides, I have to get to the registrar's office.
Make sure to read the whole article - the best piece written by an ESPN writer - well since the network came into existence. Give Caple the Pulitzer or whatever he wants. And Thanks again to Coach Howland for bringing that excitement back to Westwood. GO (UCLA) Bruins.