When I recently visited San Diego, a friend informed me that he was going to catch a game at the JCP. I was perplexed by the idea the JC Penney was now hosting basketball games? Of course, he quickly reminded me how naive I was to the San Diego sports scene and informed me that he was referring to the Jenny Craig Pavilion, home to the Division I basketball program of the San Diego Toreros.
While the venue looks like a pristine, new facility, it actually opened back in 2000. When the doors opened, Jenny Craig herself was there to present it to the students and faculty. The facility was constructed at a cost of $17 million and seats 5,100 fans. We've all heard of stadium names that have received nicknames rather than their true corporate nickname such as "The Cell" (US Cellular Field - Chicago White Sox), "The Pond" (Honda Center - Anaheim Ducks), or "The Big A (Angel Stadium of Anaheim). Jenny Craig Pavilion may have the best of them all, known as the "Slim Gym" as a play on the diet plan.
Strangely enough, the Torero basketball program is more known for producing NBA coaches than players. While the program has layed the groundwork for players to ascend into the NBA, many of them achieved more success in the coaching ranks. Three of them include Bernie Bickerstaff (Sonics, Nuggets, Wizards), Eric Musselman (Warriors, Kings), and Mike Brown (Cavaliers).
Before proceeding, I should also mention the nickname of the University of San Diego. Those who have not experienced the local culture may not be familiar with the term "torero." A popular term in Spain, Portugal, and Mexico, torero is a term used for a bullfighter. The term is synonymous with "matador," the nickname for the team two hours north at Cal State Northridge.
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For such a beautiful, modern venue I was surprised by two things when it came to food and beverage. On the positive, the prices were very moderate. As I saw the exterior and the lobby, I expected much higher prices from the concession. The negative however was that the concessions were extremely limited for such a modern venue.
The basic items included the jumbo dog ($4), pretzel ($3.50), churro ($2.50), nachos ($4.50), seeds ($3.50), chips ($2.50), candy ($2.50), popcorn ($3.50 medium or $5.50 large), or the Kid's Meal ($6).
Going with the theme of the Jenny Craig diet, the concessions offered a "Health Nut menu." The items here include parfait ($3.50), apples ($1), fruit ($1), or a salad ($7).
The beverage options include soda (Coke products: medium $3 and large $4), water ($3), Powerade ($3.50), and coffee or hot cocoa ($2.50).
I did also enjoy the flat screen televisions on temporary stands outside the concessions that allowed me to catch some other college basketball action while waiting in line.
While the venue is spacious, it does have a smaller feel and the low ceiling really caters to producing some substantial noise.
Before the tipoff, fans heard the music of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" and began chanting "USD" followed by a unified clap. The game started with a chant in hyperspeed as the students were chanting "San Di-go (clap-clap-clap)" at an extremely fast pace. Another fitting chant that the students participated in was the widely known "Ole."
Ultimately the breaks between the action offered more band music than promos. One band member was particularly fond of the cowbell and it was prevalent throughout all songs. Some of the notable promotions run between the action included a lengthy tricycle race and honoring the "professor of the game."
I ended up spending most of my free time prior to the game simply walking the campus and being blown away by all of the architecture of the buildings. If you get a chance to view the campus, I promise it will provide some of the most unique buildings you will ever see on a campus.
A good nearby "neighborhood" establishment is Mr. Peabody's Burgers and Ale. Their claim to fame is the turkey burger, topped with cheese and grilled onions. They also offer quite a selection of tacos with the fillings ranging from turkey to fish to shrimp.
Bull's Smokin' BBQ is another local favorite. The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating, and you'll find a 15 foot projection screen on the patio. They offer most items that you would find in any BBQ restaurant along with some great sides, including corn bread, bean, and mac 'n cheese (with crushed Cheez-It on top). If you have $35 to spend and a large appetite, I'd recommend their sampler platter which allows you to try a bit of everything. If that's not in your budget, they still offer many platters with sides for around $10. Another big bonus is the great prices on their 2 - 6 PM happy hour daily. All pints are $3 or less and pitchers run between $9 and $12.
Some other names in the area that you may be more familiar with include Uno Chicago Grill, California Pizza Kitchen, and the Cheesecake Factory. Since you are so close to the border, you may be in the mood for Mexican. If so, three nearby options include Super Bronco, Tio Leo's or JV's Mexican.
Despite the team posting a record that positioned the team at the bottom of the West Coast Conference (in 2011), there was a strong turnout of fans to this late-season game.
Most fans were sporting a San Diego #1 jersey rather than that of any of the current or previous players. If not wearing the jersey many of the other fans were clad in navy blue, Columbia blue, and white.
I already mentioned many of the chants that the fans immersed themselves in, but I was most impressed that they remained resilient even when the team was down big. Despite trailing by double digits, they continued to mock the opposing team, even singing the "Hey Song" and inserting the "You Suck" as the opponents were trying to conduct a timeout.
My favorite moment from the fans was after a three point shot was made, many of the fans would throw paper in the air and the cheer squad would throw a t-shirt into the crowd. The thought of a free t-shirt would of course drive the fans into a fervor for several seconds until the lucky fan received his or her shirt.
In another great value within the venue, the parking was free. Unfortunately however, the commute to the actual parking structure was extremely slow due to other on-campus traffic and pedestrians crossing the walkways.
I loved the setup of the arena more than anything else. Outside of the main entrance was a huge courtyard for the fans to congregate in and admire the beautiful surrounding architecture. Once stepping inside the front door, fans are greeted by an even more beautiful lobby. In fact, it will probably prove to be the most unique part of a Division I basketball arena that you will ever witness with its arches, tiled floor, ceiling design, and light fixtures.
As they enter the seating area, fans will find themselves above all of the seating as there is a 360 degree walkway surrounding the seats. As fans proceed around the court, they'll notice the many banners commemorating the big events in Torero sports history.
Fans can find their seat by the clearly marked section posts above each section. The seating surrounds the basketball court with the sideline seating dipping down to almost courtside. All of the seats seem to offer a good vantage point of the action and if you do not like your seat, you can walk the upper concourse to get a look from another angle.
The restrooms are located to the right and the left of the main entrance and seem to facilitate the needs of the fans in a quick manner. Like almost everything else in the venue, they appear brand new and are extremely clean.
If you're just looking for a single game, sideline seats go for $16 with the baseline going for $14 for adults and $8 for youth. If fans want to see all Torero games, season tickets go for $50 for level, $225 for level 2, or $175 for level 3.
Premium game tickets nearly double in price, charging $14 additional for sidelines and $9 more for baseline seating.
If fans are consistently free on weekends, they also offer a weekend package for $40 that allows fans to catch the three weekend games.
While I think the upcharge on the premium games is a bit much, the tickets are very reasonably priced. Couple that with the free parking and low-priced concessions, it turns out to be a very good value.
Beyond anything else, I have to give extra credit to the architecture of the pavilion and the campus as a whole. The 16th century Spanish Renaissance look and location in Alcala Park overlooking Mission Bay provides yet another beautiful Southern California look.
Just off of the main lobby, fans can peruse the Athletic Hall of Fame near the restrooms. Here fans can find plaques and trophies commemorating the notable contributors to the athletic program.
As fans walk through the front doors, if they look to the left they will spot a plaque thanking those who helped make the building possible. Continuing with the theme of the architecture, an old English (or fairy tale) font is used for the text.
The Torero program has now participated in the NCAA Tournament four times. A banner above the player benches commemorates the 1984, 1987, 2003, and 2008 seasons. The most recent appearance in 2008 even saw the school reach the second round.
As fans walk around the concourse, they cannot miss "Jerome's Best Seats," which are two elevated cushioned seats that provide some great sightlines for two lucky fans.
Such a notable venue, the Jenny Craig Pavilion has hosted the West Coast Conference tournament four times (2001, 02, 03, and 08).
As the diet plan with the same likeness has become a part of pop culture, the name of the venue just doesn't seem to fit the location. If you glance at the photos above, try and associate the exterior with the name "Jenny Craig Pavilion." It just doesn't seem to fit, thankfully they've nicknamed it both "JCP" and the "Slim Gym."
Anytime a basketball fan has an opportunity to visit a West Coast Conference venue, he or she has to seize the opportunity. Just sampling Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount, and now USD, these venues have provided some of the most aesthetically pleasing sights I've ever witnessed.
I'd love to see this program in an "up year" where they are battling for the conference championship. The fans put on a great showing despite being at the bottom of the standings and quickly falling out of contention during the game I witnessed. An unbelievable venue and involved fan base makes for a great experience.
Follow Drew's journeys through Southern California on twitter @Big10Drew.
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6110 Friars Rd
San Diego, CA 92108
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