Here is another great (what fortunately for us is becoming a weekly edition) post from our resident guest blogger BruinBlue. It's another wonderful thought provoking post which was prompted by the agonizing speculations in the Bruin message boards over the recruiting of five star recruits - Drew Gordon, Jrue Holiday and Luke Babbit - who have been targeted by Coach Howland. Although I respectfully disagree with his point number 4, I do believe BB does a great job of delineating some of the issues Coach Howland is still working through as he continues to take us (world of UCLA hoops) back to where we belong. GO BRUINS. -N
Assuming that the current speculation is correct, and that Babbitt goes to Ohio State, this has to be a disappointment. No, it's nothing terrible; we'll be just fine--better than fine. But still, we do seem to be losing out on more recruits than we would like, particularly when we really don't go after longshots out of our general region. In that vein, I will suggest some reasons, some negatives which we might need to acknowledge.
1. The Lavin effect. Yes, I will go after my bete noir, Lavin, the vampire who keeps on sucking the blood of this program. Under Lavin, UCLA was a soft, dumb team which was in many respects a national laughingstock, regardless of the Sweet Sixteens. The high schoolers of today grew up watching college basketball and knowing that Duke and Carolina and a few others were the elites, while UCLA was pretty much a joke, where you wouldn't learn anything about how to play. Of course things are different now, but a lot of kids form lifelong allegiances to a particular school based on early impressions. At one time, years ago, kids grew up dreaming of playing for UCLA. Now we have to create that image once again.
2. Eastern bias--the indirect kind. Just the fact that ESPN doesn't cover UCLA games is a big negative, like it or not. Gameday never comes from Westwood. We have discussed how frustrating it is to hear ESPN continually talk about everything but UCLA and the Pac-10. And while some prospects do not care much about that; it is natural to want to play for a program which gets great national coverage, and which is always on national TV. Tom Hansen made a terrible mistake by not accepting ESPN's offer of a few years ago to cover an early Thursday evening game each week. Of course, maybe he and others thought that if ESPN covered the Pac-10, it would ultimately make UCLA unbeatable, so this way things stay more competitive.
3. Eastern bias--the direct kind. This is the rather obvious negativity which comes from much--not all--of the national media about UCLA. I guess that having been the nonpareil for so many years, and perhaps also being in idyllic Westwood, makes people envious. We know how suddenly the Sam Gilbert influence has been elevated to a national myth, to help explain to Easterners how UCLA could possibly have won all those championships. But worse than that is the nonsense about UCLA's deliberate style; all those writers (even a few idiots in our papers) writing about us "ruining the game," and asking whether winning was worth that. No one ever writes that about Wisconsin, which plays more deliberately than we do; or Michigan State, which is almost tortuous to watch; or Butler, or Texas A&M, or any of a number of deliberate teams. And as we all know, we are not that deliberate; without stats in front of me, I would guess that our conference scoring average (remember we did not play a bunch of nonconference cupcakes to fatten our totals) is equivalent to almost all of the major teams. And yet they still write about our "slowdown style," as if they haven't even watched the games, which perhaps they haven't.
4. Howland is not a natural recruiter. Some coaches are great recruiters, which is a reflection of a certain personal style. Many of these are not great coaches. I think of Dale Brown, Bobby Cremins, Lefty Driesell--they seemed to be able to get almost anyone they wanted. Romar seems to have a recruiting gift, and Roy does, too, like it or not. Howland is a coach's coach, old school all the way. He seems personable and straightforward in all respects, but is not a charmer, or a purveyor of promises. What he sells is top-notch fundamental coaching, fairness, and of course the UCLA experience. That obviously was enough for Kevin and Stan Love and earlier, for the competitive Arron Afflalo. But it may not be what a certain type of high prospect is looking for, particularly when most of these have no intention whatsoever of staying more than a couple of years.
None of this may relate to Babbitt, who perhaps grew up an Ohio State fan; or Jrue, who has a brother going to another school; but they are nonetheless possible detriments to us as we attempt to reach a position where we are second to none on the college scene. Hopefully a few more years of Howland success will allay most of these problems.