For years, it seemed that the University of Southern California basketball program would be subject to the same fate as the football program. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has played the home of the football team for nearly 100 years now, and it appeared that the basketball program would be playing at the Los Angeles Sports Arena for years as well.
Luckily for Trojan fans, Louis Galen came forward in 2002 and donated roughly $50 million for the construction of a new basketball arena, practice facility, and naming rights.
The construction cost of the facility came to approximately $147 million and would have a listed capacity of 10,258. It would first open its doors for basketball on November 16, 2006, against another "USC," the University of South Carolina. Strangely enough, the venue would not experience its first sell-out until nearly two months later, when local rival UCLA arrived for the first time.
What may come as a surprise to many fans is the name of the court. As fans see Jim Sterkel Court, they may struggle to remember his contributions to USC basketball. Sterkel only played two seasons for the program, averaging 10 points per game during that span. He also never made a donation for his likeness to appear on the court. Sterkel's wife and children were not even aware that their family name was there until after the facility opened. Bill Plaschke wrote a touching piece for the LA Times that explains how this relatively obscure alumnus came to have his name on the court.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
For such a new venue, I was rather surprised by the limited offerings. I will list most of them below, but fans may have to search for a particular item because every stand and menu looks similar. While they all look the same, each seems to have subtle differences.
Some of the offerings include BBQ chicken, pepperoni, or three cheese pizza ($5.25), Hebrew National hot dog ($4), chicken caesar salad ($5), Philly cheesesteak ($7.50), Polish sausage ($5), churro ($3,25), nachos ($5.50), and chicken tenders ($7). The snack menu consists of Cracker Jacks ($3), popcorn ($2.50 for a small or $4 for a large), chips ($2), M&M's ($3), Starburst ($2), and Red Vines ($3)
I was probably most impressed by the prices of soda. Coke products are available at a seemingly low price of $2.75 for a 22 oz. or $3.50 for a 32 oz. Other offerings include bottled water ($3.50), Powerade ($3.50), and Vitamin Water ($3.50).
The atmosphere leading up to the contest lacks the farfare experienced at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Clearly the basketball program doesn't have the same tradition/following of the football program, but I expected a bit more from the Galen Center.
Similar to any professional contest, the arena lights dim prior to the player introductions and they put on quite a show when announcing the Trojan starters. This is enhanced by the presence of a large dance team and lots of music during breaks in the action.
Prior to tipoff, the PA system played the familiar "Zombie Nation" song as all fans sang along to the "Ooooo" song. That was followed by a "Go SC" chant until play had started.
The high definition scoreboard really works to get the crowd involved with messages such as "Let's Hear It" or "On Your Feet!" This often provoked chants of "Let's Go Tro-jans!"
Some of the interesting promotions to keep the casual fans included "Text for Tune (vote via text message for one of three songs to be played between quarters), the typical Chevron scoreboard race, and a t-shirt toss. What I felt was a really good hook was the bobblehead raffle. Each fan received a card numbered 1 through 4 and during one of the breaks, the fan holding the number chosen would receive a USC bobblehead.
The stadium is a few minutes from downtown Los Angeles, so your food and beverage options are far above and beyond most other schools in America.
Before diving into the appetite however, I need to mention Exposition Park. The area quickly reminded me of Washington D.C. with all of the sights just a few minutes of walking distance from one another. The 160 acre area includes the Coliseum itself, but so much more. The Memorial Sports Arena, Natural History Museum, California Science Center, Exposition Park Rose Garden, California African American Museum, and the Expo Center among others. Clearly, you'll need a day or more to view all of this as each of them could take several hours to view. If I had to choose, I'd recommend the Science Center (a large DC-8 Jetliner sits out front) or the Natural History Museum (largest museum on the west coast and home to nearly 35 million artifacts).
If you are looking for a quick meal before or after the game, fast food joints include Subway, McDonald's, Chick-fil-A, Carl's Jr, Pizza Hut, and Jack-In-The-Box all less than a mile away from the arena.
Another popular option not too far from the stadium is Chano's Drive-In. As you exit the stadium, you'll see many students lining up for a bite to eat. They offer a variety of Mexican foods along with some American options. Burritos, nachos, carne asada fries, tacos, tortas, green chili, burgers, and hot dogs are just a few items that you can find on the menu.
Another name you commonly hear from the USC fans is La Taquiza. The claim to fame here is the mulita (similar to a quesadilla - two handmade tortillas with cheese/meat and guacamole). Everything on the menu here is under $10, so you can try the tacos and mulitas at a reasonable price.
Another Mexican establishment to consider would be El Cholo. While no one really cares what Rachael Ray has to say, she has stated that El Cholo does have the best tacos in LA. The worst seat in the house is affectionately referred to as the Nacho Table because they compensate you for the bad seats with free nachos. Don't forget to try the margaritas as many say that they are the best around!
If Mexican isn't your thing, maybe you should consider Papa Cristos. Here, you'll find some of the best Greek food in all of Los Angeles. With the owner Papa Cristos often in attendance and overseeing the operations, you can get great Geek specialties including lamb, sandwiches, and salad.
One of the Los Angeles food landmarks includes The Pantry or Cafe Pantry. The college students love this because they can get hearty meals 24 hours a day. In fact, they could have asked for a meal at pretty much any time over the past 88 years with the exception of one day (I'll let you do your own research on why it was closed that one day). Give yourself some time to check this place out as the lines often spill outside of the building and around the block. Please note however that this is a cash-only establishment.
If you don't mind traveling a few miles from the Coliseum, I would also suggest trying out Philippe's French Dip. I'm a sucker for tourist spots, so when this place claimed to have invented the french dip, I had to try it. This french dip is probably a bit different from many that you have tried because they serve this "wet," or dipped in the beat juices before it is served to you.
Many USC students will tell you to try the 901 Club (or "the 9-0") on Figueroa Street as it was named as Playboy magazine's "college bar of the month" on June of 2002. Here, you'll find 12 or more beers on tap, nine 50" plasma televisions. Some of the foods you can try here include the corn-flake crusted chicken fingers, waffle fries, and a double chili burger.
Finally, there is the spot known as Traditions. Founded in 1987, it was a favorite of USC as the only on-campus bar until it was closed in 2008 due to some campus renovations. In 2010, it reopened at the new Campus Center and has been just as successful as the first edition. With everything on-hand from sofas to margarita pitchers to a performing stage, even the underage fans can gain admission here as those over 21 wear a wristband to get their beverages. One of the more popular items here includes the "Trojan Tea (version of the Long Island Iced Tea)" for $8.00.
The fan portion of the experience definitely has room for improvement. Knowing the passion of the fans at the Memorial Coliseum, I was rather surprised by the lackluster support at the Galen Center.
The most traditional symbol at any USC event is the "V for Victory" sign and sure enough, the fans were holding this symbol up during every Trojan free throw. The fans also would show their support vocally, often chanting "B*llsh*t" after a charging call against USC.
One fan who appeared to get a shoutout during the game was "Disco Derek." Aside from getting his name announced on the PA system and an opportunity to dance on the jumbotron, I couldn't find much information regarding this superfan, so if any USC fans have insight, please share.
The student section was rather passionate throughout the game, often starting most chants. Unfortunately some of them were wearing gold, others the cardinal red, and others had random outfits on. My point here being that they seemed to lack the continuity of many student sections.
The Galen Center can be found not far from the Staples Center on Figueroa Street, with cross streets of Jefferson Blvd and McCarty Way. Not far from downtown, its best to take the 110 or 10 freeways to access the arena.
As is the norm with downtown Los Angeles, parking can be a challenge, but there are two nearby parking structures available to basketball fans for the price of $10 a spot. Unfortunately these structures can take up to an hour to exit, so be cognizant of the time if you have to be anywhere.
The restrooms are rather small and bland for a newer facility. While this particular night did not foreshadow any problems with restroom backing up, I could imagine it getting rather congested during a capacity evening.
When fans enter the interior of the arena, they will notice two levels of normal seating, and then the premium seating on third level. The 22 private suites are at the top of the arena, rather than in the middle. The media is also situated in a unique position, among the normal seating at the south end of the arena.
The basketball experience proves to be much less expensive than that of the football program. Most seats seem to be in the range of $30.00, although I did find tickets below face value on third party sights many times during the season.
The team also offers promotions for groups of ten or more where fans can get tickets for $10 each when arriving with such a crowd. A Family 4-Pack is available for Saturday games, where a family of four can get four tickets, four hot dogs, and four sodas for a promotional price.
As I previously mentioned, Galen presents a "professional feel" for a college price. The prices at the nearby Staples Center are often double that of the Galen Center. I was pleased with the concession prices and parking is reasonable for Los Angeles at $10, so I consider this a value that competes with the NBA product down the street.
Probably the most unique feature of the Galen Center is the large windows at the north end which allow fans a glimpse of the beautiful Southern California surrounds. It also gives a view of the downtown skyline. During the game I attended, the windows were covered with a large curtain as I had heard rumblings of it creating a glare during games.
I also appreciated the Dining Location Map that could be found throughout the arena. As I mentioned earlier, most concession stands look the same, so this map can point you directly to the one you want to go to. Of course there are games where attendance is a bit lower and specific concessions will be closed, so this map allows fans to understand which are open on this particular game.
On the lower level, fans will find a large red wall reading "Trojan Greats on Sports Illustrated." This shows every Sports Illustrated cover where a Trojan or Trojan alumni has appeared. Well over 100 covers appear on this wall so make sure you leave yourself enough time to check them all out.
If the exterior wasn't already beautiful enough with red brick and palm trees, several sections have athletes incorporated into the design. These three dimensional artworks include a basketball player dunking over another or a volleyball player spiking a ball.
I did not notice any record of NCAA tournament appearances in the form of banners, but there are banners of three retired Trojans. These include Bill Sharman (11), Paul Westphal (25), and John Rudometkin (44).
Louis Galen was critical in the construction of USC's new basketball arena and because of that, he is honored with a bust of his likeness on the lower level. Not far from the bronze version of Mr. Galen is the Brian and Susan Kennedy Founders' Club with a plaque honoring all of the Galen founders.
Also adding to the activity of the lower level is the Albert J. Centofante Hall of Fame. Here fans will find the photos of previous teams, NCAA trophies, lists of All-Americans by sport, and most importantly lots of USC Cardinal red. "The Trojan Legacy" plaque is located just a few steps away, honoring basketball and volleyball athletes who not only made USC great during their playing days, but also providing for future generations of Trojan athletes.
With such a beautiful campus and desirable location, I've often questioned why the USC basketball program doesn't rival the success of the football program. Regardless of the reasons for not having a larger impact on NCAA basketball, this new facility is certain to entice new recruits and will likely elevate the program for years to come. The Galen Center is easily the most modern Division I facility in Southern California.
With the program producing recent NBA players such as DeMar DeRozen, Taj Gibson, O.J. Mayo, Nick Young, and Brian Scalabrine, it is very likely that we'll see many more USC alumni in the NBA in the coming years.
Follow Drew's journeys through Southern California on twitter @Big10Drew.
arena was nice but fans were soft
3850 S Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA 90037
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700 State Dr
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900 Exposition Blvd
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700 Exposition Park
Los Angeles, CA 90007
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