"Right now ... it's just Belmont, Belmont."

I am going to take a cue from our basketball coach and stay fixated on our first opponent. Of course you all are more than welcome to write and discuss all other opponents in our brackets, who is hot, who is not etc. but I am going to think about nothing but Belmont for next 4 days. Yes, it is gonna be excruciating 3 days till Thursday afternoon 2:05 pm PST (approx) (Official Site). I could get carried away and start thinking about facing Gottfried in the second round, or seeing whether Howland can avenge his 03 loss against Crean. I could think about a potential match up between Howland v. Dixon or visualize how UCLA can finally let Gonzaga know who is the boss out West - but I won't.

I know everyone is excited. We have every right to be. But before I get too worked up I always come back to remembering that famous quote from Ed O - "where is Tulsa?" You know the rest. Here is how Coach Howland is going to prepare for Belmont:

"Right now," Howland said, "it's just Belmont, Belmont."

Having given his team Sunday and today off, he plans to show the players "a little bit" of film on Belmont on Tuesday, give them an extensive scouting report Wednesday and then revisit Belmont's strengths and weaknesses Thursday before the game.

"There will be upsets in the first round," Howland said, "and we want to make sure we are not involved in one of them."

Said guard Arron Afflalo: "All season, Coach Howland has been saying every game is the biggest. I know he'll be saying it again this time, and it is the biggest right now."
Dohn has more on Arron's thoughts on Thursday afternoon and a note on the Belmont head coach:
"We know the teams are there, but that's secondary right now," Afflalo said. "We know 15 seeds that beat two seeds. That would be the worst thing. After all the adversity we've been through and all the improvements we made, to start focusing on the second game without taking care of the first game, that would not be right."

Belmont, a former NAIA power, began the four-year transitional process to Division I in 1997-98 and is making its first NCAA appearance. These Bruins, coached by Rick Byrd, are seventh in the nation in scoring (81.8 ppg) and fourth in field-goal percentage (.500), and have won six straight and 12 of 13.

"I'm 52, so I've watched UCLA win national championships, so it really is a privilege and honor and something you look forward to, to get to play a program that stands for all that," said Byrd, who is in his 20th season as Belmont's coach.

Byrd, who said he was pleased with a No. 15 seed, said he once worked at a basketball camp for coach John Wooden. It was shortly after Wooden retired, and took place at Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks.

"Coach Wooden was a role model for all us coaches of my generation," Byrd said. "I'm from Knoxville, and I grew up a Tennessee fan, but Tennessee didn't play in many NCAA Tournaments, so I was a UCLA basketball fan as a kid, for sure."
Classy stuff from Coach Byrd. There is lot in the LA Times today. Here is the stacked UCLA page. I loved this article on Howland recruiting Jordan. Coach Howland was intense, concise, but he also got assists from Mr. Damon Farmar and his buddies including a former Dodger superstar. This is a fun read:
"Ben's presentation was so dynamic, very intense," Taylor (Farmar's high school coach) said. "When we walked out of there, Jordan asked me what I thought. I said, 'Heck, if I had some eligibility left, I'd sign with him.' The guy jumped into the picture quick and put UCLA back in the hunt right there, right on the spot."

Just like that, UCLA made Farmar's personal Final Four -- Florida, Gonzaga and Arizona being the others still in contention. At the suggestion of his parents, Farmar listed in writing the pros and cons of each college.

"We had him put it in terms of his priorities," Damon said. "He put basketball first and added stuff like where he'd be living, education, business opportunities, the chance to network. When he was done, I told him to turn the list upside down, which would put basketball at the bottom, because, as a parent, I was looking to his life beyond basketball."

Both parents said they didn't push Jordan in any direction, trusting that once he considered all the facts he'd make the right call. But Damon admitted he gave a gentle nudge one night at his house, where he and Jordan had gathered with some friends -- including former major leaguer Eric Davis, a friend of Damon's who is Jordan's godfather.

As they played H-O-R-S-E outside, several in the group, including Davis, began singing the UCLA fight song on a cue from Damon.

"I told Jordan there were not a lot of schools," Damon said, "whose fight song was known by people all over the country."

Jordan was now leaning toward UCLA, but Donovan didn't give up. On the morning Farmar made his decision, Taylor counted 11 calls from Donovan between 8 a.m. and noon.

But in the end, Howland got his men -- Farmar and Afflalo.

That was a good day for the UCLA coach too.
And we are on our way back to our glory days here in the Bruin Nation.

Man this is exciting. I know I know ... I am thinking what all of you are thinking too. But I am not going to even think about writing anything out. Like I said above - I have been horrors such as Penn State (91), Tulsa (94), Princeton (96), Detroit-Mercy (99) - all too many times to know better. I know its different now. We finally have a coach and bunch of players with the kind of mentality we haven't had since Ed and Tyus. But still let?s be careful. But of course don't let me stop you from thinking and writing out what's on your mind - pride of Blue and Gold. March Madness - the best time of year. Good luck getting any work done. GO BRUINS.
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