Sunday, March 8, 2009

Senior Day

Yesterday (3/8) my dad and I went to watch the team's last home game and last regular season game of the year. Naturally, it was Senior Day, so we got there early to watch the pre-game festivities. We didn't get there early enough to see the Super Shot, however, which was moved from its usual place at halftime to make room for the special halftime show. More on that later. But apparently this kid, whose name unfortunately eludes me, managed to make the half court shot, securing himself free tuition for a year at UCLA. Kudos.

The next thing that was different about the afternoon was that rather than running out of the locker room at the northwest corner of Pauley Pavilion to the sound of the public address and the band, they walked stealthily out from the southwest doorway. They even fooled the band leader and security guards.

The players all gathered, standing near the Bruin bench, with Coach Howland at half court. Apparently there were six seniors associated with the team. The first to be saluted and to walk out to center court with his parents on either side was some dude whose name also eludes me. Sheesh. The second was Spencer Onishi, head student manager this year. I've always wondered what the student managers were in charge of doing. He and his parents got a hug from Howland.

The next one was James (aka Jamie?) Diefenbach, who has been with the team on and off as a walk-on but presumably a starter on the volleyball team. He got a huge cheer from the crowd because the crowd loves the benchwarmers.

The first starting senior to be honored was Alfred Aboya, and it seemed like an eternity for the P.A. guy to list all Alfred's accomplishments. Alfred's parents had flown into town this past Thursday and saw their son play basketball for the first time. And they reportedly saw LA traffic for the first time as well, and were thoroughly freaked out by it. About Alfred though, what can I say? Grad student pursuing a M.A. in public policy and the most improved player in the conference. Without Alfred this year's team would be very bad. The crowd was amazing. Everybody was on their feet, and if the Aboyas had any question about Alfred's value to the team, they needed only to listen to the uproarious cheering and screaming and chanting in support of Alfred.

Next was Darren, with his track star parents on each arm. I will miss him but won't miss the media's continuous rehashing of that tired fact. Oh well. And of course Josh followed, with his parents as well as some extra family members in tow. This whole ceremony elicited some of the most intense cheering I'd seen in Pauley in a long time, likely because it was the biggest Senior Day in a while. I heard some of the team staff was tearing up a little. These guys will be missed after this season ends, wherever it ends.

Getting back to the thing at halftime, the 1969 championship team was honored, though many of those involved could not attend. Some of them were represented by their sons. Kareem was there of course, and he and co-team captain/former cohost with Chick Hearn, Lynn Shackleford, accepted an honorary award on behalf of Coach Wooden, who is currently in the hospital recovering from pneumonia. We all wish Coach a speedy recovery. Kareem also received an award commemorating the 40th anniversary of his Naismith Player of the Year award in 1969, the first time this award was offered. Wow, Kareem is so awesome that his awards themselves have awards.

Other members of that team, including star guard Sidney Wicks and assistant coach Denny Crum were in attendance. Just think: when this stuff was going on, I was -16 years old. Though I really don't know too much about these guys, I do understand the importance of them and their accomplishments. These two ceremonies really made the afternoon doubly special and unforgettable. That and Josh's second consecutive career high in scoring (28 after getting 27 on Thursday) and Diefenbach's 2 points.

Ah, what a day. In my next bball post I will talk a bit about the game and do a little Pac-10 tourney preview.