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Kiss The Court

It took 4 and 2/3 quarters to graduate from UCLA. Even though I "walked" in June of 1996 for all intent and purposes my "Senior Day" at Pauley was the last home game of 1994-95 season against Oregon Ducks.

IIRC it was the last time a UCLA basketball team finished with only 2 losses in the Pac-10 (although one of those losses - our only home loss (ironically) against Cal - was later voided because Todd Bozeman's shady dealings up in Berkeley).

It was also the last home game for the senior class of Ed O'Bannon, Tyus Edney, and George Zidek. I have written about that day before. It was something beyond special. We had come a long way that season (and it turned out that there was still a long way to go given what we faced in the second game in Boise) after the horrific nightmares against Tulsa (94) and a heartbreaking loss against Michigan's Fab-5. Ed O who had gone through so much adversity right after coming into Westwood was having a magical season. Tyus in his senior season emerged as one of the best (and clutch) point guards in the history of our program, and there was Zidek exemplifying all that is pure and great about student athletes in an elite college basketball setting.

I still remember the moment when Ed walked in with his family and his little son and came straight to the student section during pre-game intro. He held his baby son up just like a lion king and right then there was an overwhelming explosion of emotion to this date I have never experienced in any sports event. There were no dry eyes at least in our section (what is now the glorious Den). And then of course was another moment at the end of the game - yes we rushed the court - when Ed O headed straight toward s center court and kissed the UCLA sign.

I think few years later Baron Davis did the same thing in what turned out to be his last home game at Pauley.

We have had lot of Senior Days since that Oregon game in 1995. I think there is a good chance tomorrow's day could turn out to be just as special.

Lorenzo Mata-Real is going to be the only senior from the freshman class of 2004 walking on to the hallowed court for the last time as UCLA student. We don't need to spell out here why this kid is so special to us not just as basketball player. But I think LMR "Senior Day" is going to represent something lot more than just LMR. When he walks on to the court tomorrow he is also going to bring in the memories of Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo, and Josh Shipp coming together with him as the first freshman class for Coach Ben Howland at UCLA.

You guys wonder why we are so emotionally defensive of Shipp. Because it was him, LMR, AA, and JF who were the first four guys to commit to Ben Howland and work on rebuilding the tradition of UCLA basketball. It came at a time when our program had been flushed into the gutter. We were in total disrepair and a national joke who were being laughed as unreasonable, spoiled basketball fans with a sense of entitlement who would never be content with any elite coach in the post-Wooden era.

Well last four years can speak for themselves. AA and JF are gone prospering in their professional careers. JS hit road bumps with his injuries, but I am confident when its his time to graduate ... he will leave with same high note. But tomorrow it will be LMR who will leave as the ultimate symbol of what Coach Howland has built at UCLA.

And it won't be LMR along who might be playing for the last time. I am pretty certain it will be the last home game for Kevin Love and Darren Collison (and may be even Russell Westbrook if he completely blows up later this month leading us to San Antonio ... hey that's not a bad thing!).

All of those kids are not just polished, unselfish ultimate team players. But they are also the model of ultimate student athletes from the greatest university in America.

So for all those seniors who are going to be at Pauley tomorrow afternoon taking in your last basketball home game as a UCLA student savor it. Enjoy this:

Photo Credit: Jack Rosenfeld

Not since the days of Ed O, Tyus, and Zidek we haven't had this kind of vibe around UCLA basketball program.

I don't have the emotional energy to think about Cal tonight. I will compile my notes on the Bears tomorrow am. But I am thinking about tomorrow afternoon's game. In fact I can't stop thinking about it.

May be either LMR or KL or DC (or all of them) will kiss the center court at the end of the game. It was a good omen in 1995. May be history will repeat in 2008?