- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Pauley Pavilion still has a seat reserved for John Wooden. That is the one thing in Pauley that nobody dared change.
Everything else was fair game and just about everything else was changed during a $136 million renovation of the esteemed area over the past 30 months, and as a result, the UCLA Bruins will begin play this season in what amounts to a brand-new building.
It comes complete with all the bells and whistles of a modern arena while paying tribute to the history of a building that has housed 39 national championship-winning teams, including nine in men's basketball.
Part of that hat tip to the past is reserving a seat for Wooden, the iconic coach who won eight of his 10 national titles in Pauley and used to sit behind the UCLA team bench for games after he retired in 1975 until he died in 2010.
"The central theme when we first got started was to preserve the legacy of the past and move into the 21st century," UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said of the revamped Pauley Pavilion. "We think we've accomplished that in a big way."
The modernization of Pauley passes the eyeball test. The arena first opened in 1965 and hadn't aged particularly well. The makeover added aesthetically pleasing new concourses spanning up to 40 feet wide that encircle the old building, add about 70,000 square feet of new space inside Pauley and allow plenty of room for fans to move around.
Much of that added square footage includes several museum-like tributes to past UCLA athletic achievements. The old court, complete with the block-lettered circular center court logo, has been broken up and now serves as a backdrop for three large historical displays along what is called "Wooden Way."
A wall of champions highlights the main entry area and lists all 108 of UCLA's national championship teams and large murals of notable past and current UCLA athletes hang from the high ceilings.
New concessions, including well-known food chains, and a team store have also been added and a 154 percent increase in the number of restrooms throughout the building alleviates one major complaint about the old Pauley.
"The fan experience is very important," Guerrero said. "You want to create a venue that is going to be special for them. The original Pauley was built in 1965 and we needed an upgrade in a lot of areas."
Inside, the structure of the building remained largely unchanged, but all of the seating is new, about 1,000 new seats have been added, a high-definition scoreboard now hangs at center court and LED ribbon boards encircle the top level.
The state-of-the-art, 28,000-square foot floor is also new and features the familiar script UCLA logo at center court so television viewers will immediately recognize the gym when flipping through channels. A replica of the old center-court logo is pasted on the bottom of the scoreboard in a symbolic gesture to say that the old Pauley is still watching over the new.
"When you walk in the facility, you know it's Pauley Pavilion," Guerrero said. "All the banners will still be hung up there, it has that same feel, but all of the pop and sizzle, all of the new stuff clearly allows us to say that it is a new Pauley."
Other highlights include many amenities most fans will never see. The project including digging out underground space for a 300-person banquet facility that will serve as a members-only Pavilion Club -- the only place on campus that serves alcohol -- for well-heeled donors.
Below that are modern locker rooms for the teams that play in Pauley.
They include cherrywood lockers with electrical outlets in each locker and etched-glass name plates for every player. Players also have access to lounges with large, comfortable couches and chairs and big-screen televisions.
The building now has a weight room for use by the basketball and volleyball teams and a high-tech, 24-seat theater room will allow coaches to break down film for the team. The new video systems are so quick that basketball coaches could show film at halftime.
"It is like a brand-new building," men's basketball coach Ben Howland said. "The locker room is beautiful. In recruiting the last few years, we didn't take a lot of recruits in the old locker room. We'll take everybody in this one now because it's beautiful."
When leaving the locker room, players must pass through a long Hall of Champions to reach the floor. The walls of that hall are decorated with photographs of past UCLA All-Americans, current and former Bruins in the NBA and UCLA players who had their numbers retired.
"I think this is a player-friendly experience, quite frankly," said Bruins legend Jamaal Wilkes, who has a permanent place on that wall. "The quality of the locker room and the player room and the projector room, wow, it's just really impressive. I think it's very player friendly and I think it would motivate players to want to be successful here."
Current men's basketball players can't wait to try. UCLA's men's team opens the arena with a game against Indiana State on Nov. 9. They will begin practicing there next week. Juniors Tyler Lamb and Joshua Smith played in Pauley Pavilion two years ago, but construction had already begun at that point so no current Bruins have played in a complete Pauley Pavilion.
The team played most home games at the aging L.A. Sports Arena last year.
"It definitely was a bummer playing at the Sports Arena last year," forward David Wear said. "I didn't really notice it during the year because we were just so focused on practice and taking it one game at a time. With Pauley opening up, I realize how exciting it is just to be back on our own campus."
The renovation project came in about $3 million-$4 million under budget, Guerrero said. It has been financed through donations expected to total around $70 million and sponsorships. The school is currently engaged in negotiation for a title sponsor for the building, a move the Edwin Pauley family has approved and encouraged.
What that means is that Pauley Pavilion may not be Pauley Pavilion much longer. Still, should anyone forget, there are plenty of reminders of the building’s legacy everywhere you look, including two rows behind the UCLA bench.
Because of arena reconfiguration and the men's basketball bench switching ends of the court the seat number and physical location of the seat has changed. It's now in Section 104, row B, seat No. 6. You can't miss it because it's the only yellow seat in the lower level filled with blue.
The House that Wooden Built has been rebuilt, but he still has a seat any time he wants.
In coordination with the opening of the renovated Pauley Pavilion, the school is holding a "Welcome Back Pauley Week" beginning Friday. Here is a schedule of events:
Friday, Oct. 26
John Wooden Statue unveiling, 2:30 p.m.
Public ceremony to reveal statue of iconic coach John Wooden outside the main entrance on the North side of Pauley Pavilion.
Sunday, Oct. 28
Campaign of Champions Celebration
Invitation-only reception for approximately 800 campus and community leaders, UCLA sports legends, and donors.
Tuesday, Oct. 30
All-Campus Sneak Peek, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
UCLA faculty, staff and students will have the opportunity to walk through the new arena.
Friday, Nov. 2
Pauley Opening Madness, 6:30 p.m.
UCLA student-only event features 2012-13 men's and women's basketball teams in drills and skills competitions. Volleyball and gymnastics teams will also be introduced.
Sunday, Nov. 4
Pauley Pavilion Alumni and Community Open House, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Free open-house event welcomes all UCLA alumni and Bruins fans for a tour of the new building.