UCSB’s Thunderdome was the last arena in the Big West Conference to install theater seating
“What a cute gym,” he sniffed as he noticed the wooden bleachers before working out his ninth-ranked North Carolina State basketball team.
The Gauchos were as cute as a bug the following night. A deadly, venomous bug.
Brian Shaw and his buddies swarmed Coach V’s Wolfpack like killer bees for a stunning, 96-78 upset before only the third sellout crowd in the first nine seasons of their cute gym.
“I think they took us for granted,” Shaw said after registering the first triple-double in school history with 22 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists.
That momentous night of Dec. 23, 1987, put coach Jerry Pimm’s program on the map. It set the stage for five postseason berths — two at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament and three NITs — in a span of just six seasons.
But wooden bleachers don’t sit well with the fans of the 21st century.
Pimm spoke of their ill effect on the Gauchos’ future posterity — not to mention their posteriors — while playing golf with UCSB benefactor Jeff Henley a few years ago.
“I just wanted to pick his brain,” Pasternack said. “I like to talk to successful people and leaders. I remember asking him, ‘What are you looking for when you hire people … What are the qualities you look for?’
“He’s been an incredible resource for me just to learn from.”
Henley also learned something that day: Pasternack wasn’t going to sit still until he replaced those ancient bleachers with some fan-friendly seating.
“The moment we met, I could see that he was just full of energy, and that he had a vision,” he told Noozhawk. “He’d already started recruiting other donors before I jumped in.
“In your gut, you know this guy is the real deal. He’s got fire. He’s a tremendous recruiter and a tremendous promoter, and he’s also a great coach. He had all ingredients to succeed … except the facilities.”
Henley and his wife, Judy, who had already endowed a chair for UCSB’s Economics Department, were soon providing chairbacks with a $3 million donation to Gaucho basketball.
“You can’t say no to Joe, right?” he said with a laugh.
Remodel of Excellence
UCSB completed the final phase of Pasternack’s project last week with the installation of blue, cushiony chairbacks at both ends of the court.
Theater seating was installed down both sidelines of the double-decker facility the previous two seasons.
“It’s fun to see the final pieces put together,” Henley said. “You saw a huge change with the sideline seats, but now it looks more like a real arena with everything tying together.”
Season tickets for both programs went on sale last week. Click here to purchase tickets online.
Youth basketball players can get their own preview on Oct. 14 in a UCSB basketball clinic for those in sixth grade and younger. An open Gaucho men’s basketball practice will kick off the event at 1:30 p.m. and the clinic will run from 2:30 to 4 p.m.
The clinic, which will be held in partnership with the Page Youth Center, is free of charge. Those participating must reserve a spot in advance. Scroll down the page for information and a code to register in an advertisement for the clinic.
The Thunderdome, which first opened its doors on Nov. 30, 1979, received few improvements during its first four decades of existence. But more than $10 million has been raised to remodel the facility during Pasternack’s six years as coach.
“Little by little, we’ve built this into a program that everyone can be proud of in terms of getting total, home-court dominance,” he said. “It’s taken time to get the fans to come, the students to come back, and to have a product on the court that everybody in Santa Barbara can be proud of.
“Taking out the wooden bleachers for the fans and community and giving them chairbacks to sit in makes it a real arena.”
Other improvements have included a $2.5 million video board, new locker and shower rooms, a movie theater to review game film and a practice court on the second deck.
UCSB is also about to remodel the Founders Room to serve as a “five-star lounge” for both the players and boosters.
Pasternack has compiled a win-loss record of 132-53 during his six seasons, which includes two trips to the NCAA Tournament in the last three years.
Cheers for the Boosters
Pasternack sees a bright future ahead, especially with Henley and several other donors on his team.
“Jeff and Judy have really been game-changers, and not just for men’s basketball but also for women’s basketball and volleyball,” he said. “The Thunderdome looks spectacular, and facilities are a huge part of Division I athletics.
“Mike Stewart was the lead giver for the video board. The locker room had a lot of donors but Bob Zorich was a lead giver. And Marsha and Jay Glazer were a big part of adding the practice facility upstairs.
“What they’ve done for UCSB athletics is transformational.”
The Thunderdome was the last facility in the 11-school Big West Conference to install chairback seating.
“It’s huge because it puts us on a level playing field with all these programs we’re recruiting against,” Pasternack said. “They were a necessity.
“The end zones now look incredible with the chairbacks, and I think the fans are really going to enjoy them.”
Although the arena’s capacity has been reduced in the process, Pimm insisted that less is actually more.
“You know the 6,400 we squeezed in here for the Vegas game?” Pimm said, referring to the crowd of 6,387 that witnessed UCSB’s historic victory over eventual NCAA champion UNLV in 1990. “Well, no more, because now it can only hold 5,100, at most.
“But it’s OK because it’s now back to being this great home-court advantage.”
Henley, who graduated from UCSB in 1966 with a degree in economics, cheered for the Gauchos during the early days of Robertson Gym. The facility, which opened during the 1959-1960 season, is still used by the Gaucho men’s volleyball team.
“I started UCSB in 1962 when there were only about 5,000 kids on campus,” he said. “That was back in the (coach) Art Gallon days. I remember him covering his eyes with a towel every time somebody took a free throw.
“My son-in-law was going there at the time, and he said the gym was empty when Jerry first came in. Then everything got rolling and they started to fill the place. People do like winners.”
Attendance averaged more than 5,000 per game from 1988 through 1993. The Thunderdome was nearly sold out for the entire 1988-1989 season with an average of 5,625 per game.
Henley and his wife, Judy, became active with his alma mater after moving back to Santa Barbara in 2001.
They contributed to the construction of the Mosher Alumni House in 2007 and the renovation of the university’s East entrance in 2008 with a $2.4 million donation for the “Henley Gate.”
“I’m an alum, and my brother and sister went there, too,” Henley said. “One of our daughters went there and so have two of our granddaughters.
“I like the job (chancellor) Henry Yang has done. I bet on him, too, frankly, when I met him.
“And all of us — Bob Zorich, Michael Stewart, Jay Glazer and myself — invested in basketball because of Joe.”
They had his back … and now those of about 5,100 others.