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Westbrook Leaves Lasting Impact on Alma Mater

“I always wanted to do this,” Russell Westbrook said, pausing to draw out the suspense. “Can we get a big, big eight clap?”

The crowd, already on its feet, obliged immediately. “UCLA, UCLA, Fight, Fight, Fight!

It was Russell Westbrook Night at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday when the UCLA men’s basketball team took on the University of Arizona, and as Bruins Head Coach Steve Alford said, “It couldn’t have been a better scripted night for us.” Alford’s son Bryce hit a game-winning three pointer with a second and change remaining to give UCLA the win over the number seven ranked Wildcats, and immediately as he turned around, Westbrook was standing two feet away, flexing his muscles, with lungs at full roar to cheer on his alma mater.

Thunder players, coaches and staff filled up the seats across from where Westbrook sat courtside, with everyone in attendance to witness the halftime ceremony when the Thunder point guard was honored for his donation to the school, which will help fund a new men’s basketball practice facility.

 

 

The Mo Ostin Center will be a state of the art facility that will double as a place for student athletes to utilize every day for development in addition to a recruiting tool for the program.

At halftime, Westbrook received a framed rendering of the new practice facility and the basketball floor, which will be called Russell Westbrook Court. Afterwards, he addressed the student body.

“It’s a true blessing to be able to go to the greatest university in the world,” Westbrook said. “I’m honored and humbled to be able to give back to the school I went to.”

Before almost giving up the microphone, Westbrook remembered that cheer from his playing days in Westwood, and took his opportunity to lead the raucous crowd in the university’s historic “eight-clap” chant.

 

 

 

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Rick Ganulin went to Morningside High School in Inglewood, a local rival of Westbrook’s Leuzinger High School, a few minutes away. Ganulin is a former student athlete at UCLA, a baseball player in the mid-1960’s. During his freshman year on campus, the men’s basketball team went 30-0 and won the national championship.

Since then, he and his wife have been proud boosters of the university. He and his parents have endowed two yearly baseball scholarships to the school, and he’s seen just about every basketball star UCLA has produced play the game.

On Thursday, he sat two rows back and took in the scene as Westbrook held the crowd’s attention at every stoppage of play. During a television timeout in the second half, Ganulin reflected on Westbrook’s career, and his impact on the university through his donation.

“I think it’s wonderful for an athlete to give back,” Ganulin said of the financial commitment Westbrook made to the new practice facility. “It’ll be incredible because they can identify with a student athlete and someone that came from the neighborhood so to speak, as we did, and has succeeded beyond belief. I think it’s a wonderful thing.”  

“I just remember how athletic he was and how unselfish he was,” Ganulin continued. “Russell is a special person. Particularly going to Leuzinger high, going to UCLA and being such a great star in the pros and representing himself so well. And his love for UCLA is incredible.”

 

 

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UCLA had lost its first two games in the Pac-10 this year, and Alford and company knew that going against Arizona was going to be no easy task. During his pre-game address to the team, the UCLA coach noticed that his players’ attention suddenly disappeared. Westbrook had stepped into the locker room, and Alford gave the former Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year the floor.

Whatever Westbrook said must have riled up the ranks, because the Bruins played with the type of tenacity, effort and relentlessness that the perennial All-NBA performer displays each night.

“We need to get the All-Star in the house a little more often. He brought our energy back,” Alford said.  

After the game, Alford and a handful of Bruins players considered not only on the impact Westbrook had on Thursday night, but the overarching effect he’s had on the program through his donation – the largest ever by a former Bruins basketball player.

“For a former letterman, and a great, great player to step up and make a donation that he has, it’s going to be cool to have a practice court that has one of our former players’ name on it. That sends a great message to all of our former players,” Alford said.

“You can’t say enough about the guy,” said Bryce Alford, the coach’s son and the night’s hero on the court. “The blood, sweat and tears that he gave playing the game here and he’s been donating an incredible amount back.”

“He’s here every summer. He’s playing with our guys, giving our guys tips and he’s in the weight room with us,” the junior guard added. “He’s like one of us. It’s really cool to have a guy of that stature to be hanging around with us and treat us like we’re like him.”

Westbrook understands what it’s like to be a student athlete at UCLA, and also recognizes that his years there made a massive difference in his life. He wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for those formative years in Westwood, and through his donation, Westbrook provided the resources to ensure that future Bruins have the same opportunity to succeed. 

 

 

 

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