‘Super Smash Bros.’ and laundry service? UCLA living suite life in Indy ‘frat house’
Like those who occupy any reputable fraternity, the residents of what might be called Sigma Zoo have grown accustomed to trash piled high and rooms rarely cleaned.
There’s no formal curfew. Guys cram into one room to play Nintendo. Laundry was finally washed earlier this week, on the same day that housekeeping changed sheets and fluffed pillows.
“It was like a daily double,” cracked Chris Carlson, the UCLA associate athletic director who has helped things from running completely amok on the ninth floor of the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown that’s been widely dubbed “the frat house.”
This brotherhood of Bruins includes coaches, players, operations staff, team doctors, trainers and student managers in addition to a female associate director for athletic operations and student athletic trainer. Together, they inhabit 34 rooms — one person to a room — inside one of the two hotels housing the final 16 teams playing in the NCAA tournament.
It’s a controlled environment designed to protect participants from the pandemic, not to mention parents whose visits are confined to FaceTime chats or waving from outside the ground floor of the hotel.
Sportscaster and former UCLA great Bill Walton is having the time of his life with four teams from his beloved Pac-12 in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16.
Just don’t call it a bubble. Or quiet. The Bruins’ three victories that have landed them in a regional semifinal against Alabama on Sunday at Hinkle Fieldhouse aren’t the only thing that’s been cheered.
“If they’re on the same team,” guard Jake Kyman said, “it’s over with.”
Fortunately, the volume has remained at library level most of the time. Players completed final exams for the winter quarter last week and nobody has reported to practice bleary-eyed from movie or video game marathons.
“If anything,” said Carlson, whose room sits in the middle of the floor, “it’s probably the coaches watching film until 3 a.m.”
Everyone was marooned in their room the first day until clearing quarantine, with meals delivered to each door. Now they’re free to move about the hallway, checking in with one another or stopping by the designated food room to grab a snack or clean sheets.
Sometimes the biggest score is securing an empty elevator. It can take up to 10 minutes for those hoping to reach the second floor for daily COVID-19 testing or the lobby level to snag a grab-and-go meal.
“If an elevator opens and there’s three Michigan guys in there,” Carlson said, alluding to one of the other eight teams sharing the hotel, “people are letting it go.”
Bags of ice are left outside the elevators on UCLA’s floor whenever the team returns from games or practices, allowing players to take whatever they need to soothe sore muscles. Trainers check on players and conduct treatment inside their rooms.
Anticipating a stay that might last three weeks, the team packed home and road uniforms, multiple sets of practice gear and far more snacks and energy bars than they would on a normal NCAA tournament weekend. About the only thing that was left behind was coach Mick Cronin’s vintage UCLA letterman’s jacket.
No biggie. Doug Erickson, the team’s director of basketball administration, contacted Kenny Simpson, the assistant director of equipment operations who stayed behind in Westwood to help with logistics for the men’s and women’s teams playing in the NCAA tournament simultaneously.
Simpson snatched the jacket out of Cronin’s locker inside the Mo Ostin Center and had it shipped in time for Cronin to proudly wear it to his Zoom news conference Thursday.
“Hopefully, we all get some of those,” Jaime Jaquez Jr. said of the John Wooden-era threads, “because they’re pretty sweet.”
Although one chilly, damp Midwestern day can blend into another, Cronin was pleased the Bruins did not have to go home between rounds. He recalled the fallout from his team at Cincinnati having to take a six-hour bus ride home from Nashville, Tenn., during the 2012 NCAA tournament. The Bearcats arrived at 6 a.m. before flying to Boston the next day and playing in a regional semifinal two days later.
Cincinnati lost to Ohio State by 15 points.
UCLA should be fresh after staying put for nearly a week between games. That is, if the Bruins haven’t exhausted themselves trying to keep their rooms from looking like something out of a hoarder documentary.
“I try to stay organized as much as I can because I’m [a neat] freak,” Kyman joked, “but it will get messy here and there with food and trash and leaving clothes around.”
UCLA coach Mick Cronin says college basketball will always be better for player development than the NBA G League.
The Bruins were finally allowed outside their hotel the day after beating Abilene Christian in the second round. There was a trip to an empty zoo on Tuesday followed by an outing to Topgolf on Wednesday. There remained some debate later in the week about who was the best at driving balls in the rivalry between Jaquez and Johnny Juzang.
Said Juzang: “I spanked Jaime. Spanked him. It wasn’t even close.”
Said Jaquez: “I smoked him, I don’t care what he has to say. That’s the truth, I won, I got witnesses to testify to my plea.”
Kyman, the lead witness in the matter, backed Jaquez.
“Jaime’s the best by far,” Kyman said.
What about Johnny?
“You know Johnny,” Kyman said, “he likes to put himself up there.”
Animals, these guys.
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