What Might Have Been

Andy Lyons

-Bumped. BN Eds.

I was struck by a comment by a current UCLA student, keylime503, following the first exhibition basketball game, against Cal State San Bernardino.

In Tydides' BN write-up following the game, some folks were discussing their dissatisfaction, so far, with Coach Steve Alford. Keylime made the point that very few students even knew that UCLA had a new head coach this year, or that it was Steve Alford, or who Steve Alford was.

As a current UCLA student, I can tell you that 95% of the student body doesn’t know the different between Brad Stevens and Steve Alford. In fact, I would wager more than 70% of the student body doesn’t know we changed bball coaches this year. Blame that on the AD or the students, but the choice of coach is NOT gonna get students in the seats, especially since all the freshman came in this year talking about how they go to a "basketball school."
by keylime503 on Oct 30, 2013 | 11:56 PM

Before I get to what struck me about keylime's comment, I want to make clear that I'm not singling him or her out, in any way, and I'm not disputing the truth of what he or she said, from his or her perspective. In fact, I believe that keylime probably described the prevailing attitude and awareness among the general student body with some accuracy.

One further caveat: I don't mean for this post to sound condescending toward today's students. Quite the contrary. I would like for today's students to have Bruin athletic memories created inside their souls, memories that will last them a lifetime, as glorious as those I had in my time. Yes, I've been around the block enough times to have witnessed the most incredible run of success in basketball history, and I am several decades removed from my Bruin student days. But, this post is not about whose days are better. It's about UCLA's current days, and some of the reasons that are keeping fresh amazing memories from being created for today's students.

So, with these disclaimers, this post begins.

Channeling Rod Serling, a sci-fi writer and producer of the old TV series, Twilight Zone, I would like for keylime and other current or recent Bruin students to "Imagine, if you will...," a few fictitious scenarios, as though these scenarios were the current realities.

There is unified student seating in Pauley--the entire north side of Pauley, as well as end-line seats, is available to students and the Band. Even without floor-level seating around the entire court, the unified students leave no doubt on anyone whose home court this is. Student tickets are ridiculously cheap, and students have only to check a box to have the modest sum for season tickets added to their fees.

There is intense demand for Den seating, or more accurately, for Den standing. Camp-outs are routine, even for lower-tier, non-conference opponents. Counter-intuitive as it seems, the ability of students to focus on classes and subjects has actually improved by attending Bruin games. Why? Because Bruin basketball is religion. Students have to learn how to study efficiently, for the simple reason that not going to Bruin games is out of the question.

Even those students who do not camp out for the Den arrive early, so as to watch the pre-game warm-up drills and Spirit Squad and Dance Team. As students watch the team warm up, they observe the crisp drills and see first-hand, before the game has started, the disciplined coaching that the players have received. This team is a Ferrari engine, humming on the floor. The anticipation builds. You can't wait to see them open it up. By tip-off, the atmosphere is electric, and the place is packed.

The Bruins are a polished, disciplined team that, although they don't always win, always give everything they've got, and consistently play with poise during crunch times. They are a team that has created a buzz in all of southern California. Demand for public seating is high. The Bruins perennially rate among the nation's elite. UCLA is a school whose rich history, exciting present, and promising future make it a dream school for many top-level recruits across the nation.

Alumni who reside nearby, and quite a few who don't, relish and renew their season tickets annually. Alumni, even while seated high above the court, look with pride at the unified student seating, and bask in the Bruin passion that rain upon them in their nosebleed seats. Alumni who feel, yes, that's the way it should be, that students should have the best seats. After all, this is their time.

I could go on, keylime, but you get the idea. All of the above were realities for students of my and later generations. This is, actually and truly, the way it was.

I doubt that such a run of success can ever be repeated, anywhere. And, I don't expect that we can ever find another John Wooden to lead the team. But, the thing is, this is not a requirement. With even a fraction of the on-floor success of Coach's teams, you can expect that those rocking Pauley sell-outs and passionate enthusiasm can happen again. In many ways, Coach Wooden and UCLA put college basketball on the map. It won't take that much to remind people of UCLA's place in history, and to look to its future with eager anticipation.

It won't take Wooden-level success to bring students and the public back to Pauley. A great teacher with integrity and genuine respect for Coach and UCLA's heritage can do it. Coach Wooden blazed the trail, and paved the highway. Contrary to what the current incompetent Athletic Director says, UCLA is a fantastic place for the next great Bruin coach to land. The difficulties that our AD laughably cites as reasons why top coaches avoid UCLA will not discourage a truly worthy coach, and the the number of worthy candidates is greater than zero.

The point, keylime, is that you don't know what you're missing.

We don't know that Brad Stevens or Shaka Smart would have been the next great UCLA coach. We have many reasons to suspect that they could have been, but nothing in life is guaranteed. We also do not know that Steve Alford won't be a great UCLA coach, although we have many reasons to think that he won't be.

In March 2013, there was a palpable, electric excitement around a possible Stevens hire in the greater Bruins nation. Stevens is in L.A.? OMG! For real? My God, is it possible? After all his flubs, did Dan get one right, possibly perfect? Oh, please, p-l-e-a-s-e, let it be.

With the barest hints of promising prospects, we could see, we could feel, a dramatic change in the direction of program, and that direction was great. All you Bruin youngsters would see for yourselves. All you who haven't tasted epic, classic Bruin basketball would get your bellies filled. Oh, God, please, Dan, don't screw this up. Pleeaaasssse! Make it happen.

And, then in less than 24 hours, it all came crashing down. To fall from the oh-so promising heights of a Coach Stevens or a Coach Smart to Steve Alford is not mere disappointment. It's getting airborne to a height of fifty feet, seeing blue skies up ahead, then arcing over the cliff and plummeting to the bottom of the canyon.

Jarringly and dramatically, it was unmistakeable evidence of what a bone-headed AD UCLA has. It illustrated graphically how disrespectful Dan Guerrero is to Coach Wooden, and how ignorant and unappreciative he is of what UCLA means to us Bruins. And, Guerrero's actions over the years, in general, demonstrate loud and clear that he doesn't give a shit about you students.

Whether Stevens or Smart would have righted the ship, I am quite certain that there would have been a hell of a lot more excitement around the program were they taking the floor at Pauley for the first time than I see with the current coach. Maybe there wouldn't have been a sell-out for Cal State San Berdnardino. Maybe the apathy among today's students that you report would have taken a little while to dissipate, but unless their records at Butler and VCU are complete illusions, and unless the Boston Celtics are complete morons for choosing Stevens to lead their storied franchise, dissipate it would.

The success enjoyed in UCLA's heyday didn't happen overnight, either. It took a while for momentum to build among students, and it took even longer among the general public. Of course, the pace was accelerated with the construction of Pauley, the presence of student-athletes such as Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich, Lew Alcindor, and of course the steady guidance of Coach Wooden. But, it wasn't just the winning that drew people. In very large part, it was the way that UCLA approached basketball. UCLA stood for something. Excellence. Integrity. Class. People didn't just go to games to see college teams play. They went for the same reason that people who didn't give a flip about ballet or baseball made a point to see Rudolf Nureyev or Sandy Koufax when they had a chance. They went to see the best.

Bruin basketball is bigger than any one coach. Bruin basketball should be returned to religion status among students. Bill Walton is right: all is not right with the universe unless the Bruins are great. Could a Coach Stevens or Coach Smart have returned Bruin basketball to greatness? Thanks to Dan Guerrero, we'll never know.

Understand, keylime. It's not just the nostalgia over long-gone glory days that causes the current consternation among many of us Bruin fans and alumni. It's not just that we're sick of seeing the athletic programs of our beloved school being dismantled piece by piece, right in front of our eyes, by mind-numbingly incompetent buffoons. We had a Ferrari, purring on twelve perfectly tuned cylinders. . Now, we have a barely operable Pinto, limping along on four and a half.

It's not just that we're tired of seeing today's students getting shafted time and again by uncaring, self-aggrandizing bureaucrats. And, it's not just that we are appalled, dismayed and saddened that the memory and legacy of one of the most ethical, moral, and principled men of the twentieth century, not to mention the best athletics teacher ever, is being crapped on by Messrs. Block and Guerrero.

It's not any one of these things that gives us such indigestion. It's all of these things, along with the the aching emptiness of what might have been.

You don't know what you're missing, keylime.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.

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