Calling the Shots: A good time for a party

Late Saturday night on a lush backyard in Newport Beach, UCLA football coach Rick Neuheisel played the guitar with an 80s cover band, Flashback Heart Attack.

They performed, "Jesse's Girl," the Rick Springfield hit that's about a guy who pines for his buddy's girlfriend. (There's a video on youtube)

Wanting what the other guy has might've been the natural feeling with regard to football at UCLA. But that's not the case now. Neuheisel was there to tell UCLA fans based in Orange County all about it.

He also touched on his relationship with the late John Wooden during an emotional speech to a group of over 300 at the Orange County Dinner Celebration and Auction event for the UCLA Wooden Athletic Fund.

The timing of the event was intriguing to say the least. Barry Saywitz, a UCLA alumnus who hosted the event, had always wanted to be involved with building support for the Bruins in Orange County. Saturday night was a good time to do just that.

The attendees, that included special guests Jamaal Wilkes, Terry Donahue, Tyus Edney and Toby Bailey, were there to honor Wooden, the revered basketball coach who died June 4. They were also there to celebrate, as rival USC was dealt a stiff penalty by the NCAA three days before the event. Talk about the Trojans' two-year bowl ban and loss of 30 scholarships over three years filled conversations throughout the night.

Even Neuheisel opened his speech with a joke.

"I had a guy from the other school come up to me today and asked what I was doing tonight. I said I was going to a UCLA party. And he said, 'You guys are partying already?' "

Later, Neuheisel addressed the USC issue.

"With respect to what's going on across town, really we have no interest in that. Seriously that's their issue," he said. "We don't want to be a program that worries or gloats about anybody else's situation. We want to take care of ourselves. We want to do things the right way. We want to be proud of how we run our programs. We want to play with unbelievable integrity, unbelievable sportsmanship and unbelievable competition. I promise you that's what we're going to do."

Tim DeCinces, a former Corona del Mar baseball player who competed at UCLA, said the date of the event was set months in advance, as the organizers were careful to schedule before graduations and Father's Day.

DeCinces, whose restaurant The Beach Pit catered the event, acted as emcee. He was also thrilled with the timing of the event. It helped raise approximately $70,000 for the Wooden Athletic Fund. Neuheisel also did his part, as he auctioned two tickets to UCLA's game at Texas for $5,000. The tickets include a flight with the team, stay at the team's hotel and access to the team's walkthrough.

DeCinces and Saywitz said there has always been a strong following for USC in Orange County. They want to help build a group for the Bruins. Having Neuheisel as the featured guest certainly helped.

He has ties to Orange County. His sister, Nancy Bell, lives in Newport Beach. Neuheisel introduced Nancy to her husband, one of Nueheisel's close friends, Lantz Bell, the president of the Newport Harbor Baseball Assn.

"I don't know if I should be taking credit or telling him I'm sorry," Neuheisel joked. "We've been close for a very long time."

Lantz Bell knows Neuheisel well enough to know that the UCLA coach hardly gets choked up when speaking. But Neuheisel was on the verge of tears Saturday, mainly because he was talking about Wooden.

Neuheisel shared the story of the UCLA students arriving outside the hospital after Wooden died.

They chanted his name in a classic roll-call style, the noise echoing through the streets as the students packed a space between two buildings.

As Neuheisel described the scene his voice became shaky.

Neuheisel also revealed that Wooden sent a note to him before his first game as coach at UCLA against Tennessee, letting him know there would be peaks and valleys with the Bruins.

Wilkes also expressed emotion and gratitude during a private interview at the event.

"He's a mentor, a friend and a coach," said Wilkes, whose eyes watered. "At this point in my life, he was more of a friend, a very dear friend. He's going to be deeply missed. He was someone who greatly touched my life, blessed my life and influenced my life."

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