The UCLA team banquet was Sunday night. Bruin alumni Patrick Meighan provides this excellent report:
Okay, well, this is the first one of these I’ve ever gone to (for any sport, ever), so I don’t really have a whole lot to compare it to. But my daughter (age 5) and I really had a great time at this one, just watching these young women interact with the world, and with each other. The affection this team seems to have for each other and for their coaching staff (and vice versa) is, to my eyes at least, pretty unmistakeable. They really do seem to like each other. And no wonder, ’cause there seems to be a lot to like *about* them.
A little story: my daughter brought our media guide and a sharpie, intending to get a couple of autographs, but as soon as we got to the UCLA Faculty Center (during the initial cocktails-and-kibbitzing part of the evening) and my daughter was within a few feet of her heroes, she suddenly got very shy and decided that she couldn’t bring herself to go talk to any of them. Which was fine, of course. We just sat down at a table in the corner and my daughter began unsteadily scrawling a few players’s names in on the media guide pages where their autographs otherwise would have gone. Meanwhile, I went off to the bar to go get her some juice. But by the time I made my way back, Stacie Terry had pulled up a seat next to my daughter, had somehow brought her out of her shell, and was helping her get autographs from all of the players and coaches around her. It was really completely cool. I thanked Coach Terry for taking the time with my daughter like that, and she smiled back at me and said, “It was cute, I asked her if she wanted to get Jasmine Dixon’s autograph and she said, ‘No thanks, I already wrote her name in.'”
Okay, so my daughter doesn’t *completely* understand the whole “autograph” concept yet.
We then proceeded into the banquet hall, got some food, and heard some speeches. Chancellor Block was there, sitting at Coach Caldwell’s table. I don’t know if he always goes to all of these Bruin athletic banquets (’cause, like I said, I’ve never been to one of these before), but it struck me as really cool to see the Chancellor there, personally supporting the team like that. It then struck me as slightly less cool a few moments later when he gave a speech and had to read the names of the three seniors off a piece of paper, and had clear difficulty with the pronunciations, to boot. C’mon, Gene, you really should know these names by now.
A couple of you have asked who on the team was given awards at this event. I confess that I wasn’t taking notes, but if my memory serves, it went like this:
*Taka got the academic award. (Note: I discovered at this banquet that everyone involved with the team has always called her by her last name, and never by her first name).
*Coach Caldwell presented Moniquee with an award for the most memorable moment of the season: the point near the end of the NC St. game where Moniquee put up a 17-footer from the wing and nailed it.
*Coach Caldwell then presented Doreena with something called the Floor General Award… not because she assumes command of the team while on the court, but because she’s always literally falling/sliding onto the floor. Doreena accepted the award, declaring, “Thanks, yeah, that floor is hard sometimes.”
*Coach Butts presented Markel with the Newcomer of the Year award, and preceded the presentation with an anecdote about Markel playing poorly during the game in Eugene and being pulled, whereupon she sulked her way down to the end of the bench and reclined with a towel over her head. Caldwell sent Butts down to the end to ask Markel what she was doing, and Markel replied, “Coach, I’m relaxing.” Butts returned to Caldwell and said, “I think she’s done for the night. She just said to me, ‘Coach, I’m relaxing.'” After a couple minutes, Caldwell goes down to the end of the bench and asks Markel, “Are you still relaxing, or are you ready to play some basketball?” Markel replies, “Yeah, I guess I’m done relaxing.”
*Coach Perotti presented Rebekah Gardner with some sort of all-around award, the title of which I don’t recall, but it had something to do with attitude and citizenship, and maybe there was a “most improved” implied in there as well. Perotti told a story about having made it a personal project, all season long, to needle Rebekah in order to provoke a reaction… hoping to coax a bit more assertiveness out of her, I suppose. And he said that, late in the season during a mid-game huddle, he started to rag on Rebekah as usual, and Rebekah finally fired a shot back at him. He said that he couldn’t smile at the time, but that inside he was beaming, because it meant that he’d finally gotten through the nice exterior and found Rebekah’s aggressive side. (Note: Rebekah’s sister, Rhema, was there at this event as well. I found myself curious what she must be thinking while hearing this anecdote, and wondering if she’d be Perotti’s next extended project). (Other note: I was initially alarmed to see that Rhema was clearly several inches shorter than her sister, but then was relieved to discover that Rhema was wearing flat sandals, while Rebekah was wearing impossibly high heels… as were most of the other players, for some reason).
*Coach Terry presented Jasmine Dixon with the POY award, pausing first to encourage us all to boo Jasmine for initially choosing Rutgers.
It then came time for the traditional senior speeches, at which point we were informed that Erika, Taka and Moniquee had opted to skip the speeches, and instead had shot and edited a video about their Bruin experiences. It was a pretty funny video… some very-passable impersonations of the coaching staff in there, and was (all in all) a really nice peek at the personalities *inside* the jerseys. Very nicely done.
Coach Caldwell then gave a really touching speech about those three seniors, tagging each of them with one-word summaries. Erika, she said, is “love.” Taka, she said, is a greater embodiment of “peace” than anyone she’s ever met. And Moniquee, she said, is “happiness.” So for the rest of her life, Coach said, she’ll think of those three seniors as “love, peace and happiness.”
Then Coach asked each of the remaining classes to stand up, one by one. First the upcoming seniors: Doreena, Darxia, Christina and Nina. “Guys,” she said directly to them as they stood there, alone in that crowded and silent banquet hall, “You got one shot left. Understand? One more shot to make it to Indianapolis. Okay? This is your last shot.” It was really kind of intense. Then that class sat down and the upcoming junior class was told to stand: Jasmine and Rebekah (Atonye stood too, but Nikki told her to sit back down, because she’s also got a redshirt year left). Coach told them, “Okay, you guys have two shots left. Two more shots, and that’s it.” Then they sat down and the upcoming sophomores were told to stand: Mariah, Markel, Jackie and Atonye (for real this time), “And you guys have three more shots left. Three more shots.”
Lots of pregnant pauses during this particular portion of the event. Again, from my point of view, some very palpable intensity there.
After that came a somewhat-standard video reel of the season highlights, followed by Dave Marcus (who had emcee’d the evening) calling the event to a close, only to be cut off by Moniquee, who led the entire banquet hall in an improptu 8-clap. Pretty cool, and a great way to finish off the night.
Again, my daughter and I just had a really great time at this event. As a Bruin alum and a father of a young girl, I was very proud and happy that my daughter was getting the opportunity to see and interact with the exceptionally strong, vibrant, confident and beautiful women who comprise this Bruin team (the players *and* the coaching staff). This program is a keeper. The people running this program are keepers.
I already can’t wait ’til next year.
UCLA Class of ’95