UK basketball notebook: UCLA chooses facelift over new arena

UK unlikely to settle for renovation of Rupp Arena

Herald-Leader Staff WriterAugust 28, 2011 

UCLA will renovate storied Pauley Pavilion this coming season rather than build a new arena. UCLA chose not to include luxury suites in the renovation. UCLA accepted the necessity of inconveniencing its fans by playing "home" games at other sites during the renovation.

Is that any way to run a college basketball dynasty?

Surely, the University of Kentucky's athletic leaders don't think so.

UK officials won't say it for public consumption, but most observers think the athletic department lusts for a new basketball home in downtown Lexington rather than staying married to faithful old Rupp Arena. A facelift and updated wardrobe for Rupp? UK shrugs. The magic is gone in this relationship, and Mitch Barnhart hungers for some financial Ha-cha-cha.

This bit of speculation holds that UK athletics also wants the new arena to include luxury suites and many of the other revenue-generating ideas architects devise. With its collective heart set on a new arena, UK considers the idea of playing a season in, say, Freedom Hall during a Rupp renovation unthinkable.

Yet UCLA not only thought of such an idea, but will implement it in 2011-12 while Pauley Pavilion gets a $136 million upgrade. UCLA will play 14 games in the Los Angeles Sports Arena (which is about 12 miles from campus), four games in the Honda Center in Anaheim (45 miles) and an exhibition game in the so-called Inland Empire (about 60 miles from UCLA in the Riverside-San Bernardino area of southern California).

Athletics Director Dan Guerrero cheerily calls UCLA's home schedule this coming season the "Bruin Road Show."

"We had to make a decision," he said last week of a season without Pauley Pavilion. "One arena or spread the gospel, if you will, and play at multiple places."

Guerrero acknowledged the downside to this nomadic home schedule.

"It's not ideal," he said. "We know we'll take a hit in our season-ticket base."

Guerrero noted a 10-percent reduction in season-ticket sales compared to this time last year. "That's a significant hit for us," he said.

So why not stay in Pauley Pavilion while constructing a new arena? UCLA considered that option.

"But we knew we had something pretty special here," Guerrero said of Pauley, which opened in June 1965 and cost — get this — $5 million to build. (Trivia: Who headed the fund-raising campaign? Future Nixon Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman.)

Of course, UCLA's cavalcade of stars — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes, to name a few — played in Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins won all but two of their 11 national championships with Pauley as its homecourt.

When asked if John Wooden lobbied to keep Pauley Pavilion as UCLA's homecourt, Guerrero said, "Coach Wooden always said when Pauley was built, it was like manna from heaven. While he never gave me advice, from the twinkle in his eye in conversations we had, it was very clear to me that if we could save it, that would be a good thing to do."

Twin purposes guide the renovation of Pauley, Guerrero said. "Retain the traditions of the past while moving into the 21st century."

Guerrero defined the move into the 21st century as "incorporating all the bells and whistles you see in new arenas."

The UCLA renovation calls for new locker rooms and scoreboard inside, plus a concourse built around Pauley.

But like the 20th century, Pauley's 21st century will not include any luxury suites.

"We discussed that at great length," Guerrero said. "We didn't want to go with what many people here said was the patrician route, and we wanted to maintain sort of the college feel."

Well, that's no way to run a college program.

Recruiting tool?

In explaining why Rupp Arena does not meet UK basketball's needs, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart suggested last week that a new downtown facility would be a better recruiting tool. Prospects are impressed by the shiny present and cannot appreciate the musty past.

"They're not focused on Larry Bird and Magic Johnson," Barnhart said. "They're focused on LeBron James and Kobe Bryant."

John Calipari's recruitment of three straight No. 1-rated classes would seem to refute any notion of Rupp Arena as a hindrance.

UCLA Athletics Director Dan Guerrero said Rupp Arena and his own Pauley Pavilion are an advantage, not a disadvantage in recruiting.

"Many universities that are building these brand-spanking new arenas are hoping someday to have the tradition of Pauley Pavilion or Rupp Arena," Guerrero said. "What sells Kentucky and UCLA is history, tradition, the recent success, the great coaching and the institutions themselves."

UCLA chose to renovate Pauley Pavilion rather than construct a new arena.

"We believe retaining a venue like an iconic Pauley Pavilion that incorporates many of the new elements prospects are looking for will do, in and of itself, everything we need to do to keep our program above the fray, if you will," Guerrero said.

A true pragmatist

Apparently, Kansas Coach Bill Self is a true pragmatist. He saw a potential recruiting sales pitch with a storied arena like the Jayhawks' Allen Fieldhouse or a shiny new arena.

"A school will sell whatever they have to offer," he said in an email. "So, if it's an older arena, you sell tradition and history. And if it's a new arena, you sell bells and whistles."

First things first

The big question hovering over the future homecourt for UK basketball is how to pay for either a renovation of Rupp Arena or construction of a new facility.

Mayor Jim Gray led a group of Lexington leaders on fact-finding trips to Columbus and Indianapolis this month. The group heard two different answers on the question of how to finance new arenas. In Columbus, voters rejected proposals to raise taxes to fund a new arena five times. Then Nationwide Insurance led the way to privately finance Nationwide Arena and the Arena District. Government paid for such infrastructure as streets and sewers.

In Indianapolis, a tax increase on food and beverage in Marion and surrounding counties made Conseco Fieldhouse and the Wholesale District possible.

When asked which example seemed right for Lexington, Gray deferred the question.

"I believe in first things first," he said. His priority list would start with examining Rupp Arena and surrounding land, then engineering a solution, then creating a budget and lastly working up a financial model.

If Kentuckians could stomach any tax increase, surely it would be for a project to benefit UK basketball.

"Nobody wants to talk about or think about that sort of thing when we're in a recession," Gray said. "At the same time, it's important — when we're in roles of leadership — we think about the future."

With UK's existing lease to play in Rupp expiring in 2018, Lexington leaders have no choice but address the renovate-or-build-anew question, Gray said.

Jones, Lamb honored

Last week ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale unveiled his "All-Solid Gold" teams for 2011-12. UK forward Terrence Jones made the first team, while teammate Doron Lamb made the fifth team.

Vitale made the selections, not a media committee or panel of coaches. He has one rule: No freshmen allowed. He said he doesn't want to create the kind of enhanced expectation that surely affected North Carolina's Harrison Barnes last season.

Vitale acknowledged that his all-solid gold teams are good for conversation, but shouldn't be taken too seriously.

"Just a prediction," he said. "Post-season (teams) are based on actual performance."

North Carolina placed players on each of Vitale's first four solid-gold teams. A mild surprise that no Florida player made a team.

Here are the teams:

First team — Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh; Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin; Jared Sullinger, Ohio State; Terrence Jones, Kentucky; Harrison Barnes, North Carolina.

Second team — Tu Holloway, Xavier; John Jenkins, Vanderbilt; Tyler Zeller, North Carolina; Perry Jones, Baylor; Kris Joseph, Syracuse.

Third team — JaMychal Green, Alabama; Robbie Hummel, Purdue; John Henson, North Carolina; William Buford, Ohio State; Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut.

Fourth team — Yancy Gates, Cincinnati; Draymond Green, Michigan State; Elias Harris, Gonzaga; Kendall Marshall, North Carolina; Tim Hardaway, Jr., Michigan.

Fifth team — Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt; Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota; Khris Middleton, Texas A&M; Doron Lamb, UK; Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette.

Cautionary tale

All the talk about a new arena for UK basketball evoked a memory of former Georgia coach Hugh Durham.

A Louisville native, Durham took note when then-UK Coach Rick Pitino campaigned for a new arena in 1991.

During an SEC coaches teleconference in February, 1991, Durham jokingly suggested that the larger and newer UK home arena, the slightly better chance Southeastern Conference rivals had of beating the Cats.

"If you look, you'll see they had a little more success at Alumni Gym," Durham said, launching into a half-serious, half-kidding soliloquy. "They maybe had two or three percentage points less success in Memorial Coliseum. And two or three percentage points lower — but still in the high 80s or low 90s — in Rupp Arena.

"So," Durham concluded, "basically what the rest of the league has to look forward to is four or five men's basketball facilities down the road. Kentucky may lose a reasonable number of home games if the pattern continues. A new arena goes to 30,000. Goes to 50,000. Once it gets to 75,000, who knows? They might only win 80 percent of their games."

Durham knew his Kentucky basketball history. His logic still holds.

In Alumni Gym, UK had a record of 245-24, a winning percentage of 91.1. In Memorial Coliseum, UK was 308-38, a winning percentage of 89.0. In Rupp, UK now is 459-60, a winning percentage of 88.6.

Listening to Durham's comments, Pitino accentuated the positive while playing along with Durham's premise when his turn to speak came on the teleconference.

"Certainly, I'm very excited about Hugh's plans to get 75,000 in a new arena," Pitino said. "That's exciting for all Wildcat fans."

'Skyboxification'

With luxury suites and other so-called priority seating in the conversation about UK basketball's future homecourt, an item in The New York Times last Sunday hit a timely chord.

Harvard professor Michael J. Sandel, the author of "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?," offered his opinion of luxury boxes in the newspaper's feature asking what selected people would do if president of the United States.

"I would lead a campaign against the skyboxification of American life," he said. "Not long ago, the ballpark was a place where C.E.O.'s and mailroom clerks sat side by side, and everyone got wet when it rained. Today, most stadiums have corporate skyboxes, which cosset the privileged in air-conditioned suites, far removed from the crowd below.

"Something similar has happened throughout our society. The affluent retreat from public schools, the military, and other public institutions, leaving fewer and fewer class-mixing places. Rich and poor increasingly live separate lives.

"I would invest in an infrastructure for civic renewal — not just roads and bridges, but schools, transit, playgrounds, parks, community centers, health clinics, libraries and national service. This would put people to work. And it would draw us out of our skyboxes and into the common spaces of democratic citizenship."

Tweet of the times

Sportswriting hero Dave Kindred tweeted this observation of the profession last week:

"Old school sportswriter: Scotch by the typewriter. New school: designer water by the iPhone."

Happy birthday

To Mitch Barnhart. He turned 52 on Saturday.

To Richie Farmer. Kentucky basketball icon and (invisible?) candidate for lieutenant governor turned 42 on Thursday.

To Van Florence. The longtime Man Friday for UK basketball turned 65 on Friday.

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at jtipton@herald-leader.com.

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