In December, I asked Bruins Nation the following question:
Would the basketball season still be fun if we didn’t have a great chance to win the national championship?
Then I wrote:
I think we have a good team, potentially a really good team.
But it isn't quite as good as last year's team. How could it be, we lost three NBA players in Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute. Love, in particular, was a dominant force for the team and as much as I enjoy Alfred Aboya, there is no comparing the two as centers.
But, my question is, so what?
See, I really like watching this team. In some ways, I find it more interesting and enjoyable to watch this team come together and seek to fulfull its potential. Last year's team, to me, was championship or bust. It was so good and it was coming off two straight final fours and the hype around Love was so spectacular, that it felt like anything less than a title run not going to satisfy. Just watching the games was tense -- I didn't just feel that the team could win every game, I felt like it had to win every game.
About a month after I posed that question (and only ten days ago), Nestor revisited this topic. He wrote:
So with that context in mind I’d like to hear if there is anyone out there who is not enjoying what has been methodically transpiring infront of our own eyes this basketball. Ben Ball warriors offered up another standard beat down of Arizona last night in the house that Coach Wooden built. Last night was FUN. What was most fun for me was to watch the ball movement. Coach Howland was happy:
Both games, to my eyes, were excruciating.
Arizona State was was slow torture. We build a double-digit lead, then slowly watched the Sun Devils tie the game in the last minute, sending it to overtime before stealing the win. Against Washington State, we played like an aging boxer, building a slow lead in the early rounds, then hanging on through the middle rounds before the Huskies scored a TKO in Round 12.
After the Washington game, I spent some time perusing this site as well as some of the other UCLA fan sites. The posts have been both predictable and over-the-top reactionary.
What's wrong with the team?
It's Howland's offense.
It's Howland's defense.
Darren Collison is tired. Jrue Holiday is overrated. Josh Shipp can't defend. Alfred Aboya can't shoot.
I could go on.
And on and on.
But you get the point.
Usually, on Sunday after a Saturday loss I skip the sports section and head straight for the business section. (I've spent the last six football seasons tossing the sports page.) But yesterday, for some reason, I picked up the pages and read the game story, read the side notes and checked the box score.
It occurred to me: Everything is copacetic. I'm okay with this team.
I don't mind riding the roller coaster.
Believe me, I'm not polyanna, Howland-can-do-no-wrong sycophant. I believe this team is flawed. Some of the criticism being leveled by the unlevel-headed has a grain of truth to it. Some of the chagrin is manifested in real, on court deficiencies.
Yet, I'm okay with this team.
I find this team interesting. I fascinated (and frustrated) by Howland's attempts to find the right combinations on the court, I'm intrigued by what I see as his reluctanct admittance that he must play guys like Malcolm Lee and Drew Gordon more if he wants to maximize the potential of this year's model.
I loathe cliche, but lacking articulation, I'll just say this team is what it is. Our point guard is very talented, but he's not expert in setting up his teammates. Our star freshman is a work in process and his classmates are still earning the confidence of our coach. Our seniors do the best they can with limited ability. Our role players are good-but-not-greatr Pac 10 players.
My feeling is that the 2008-09 Bruins will remain a work in process for some time to come, maybe right though season's end. I believe the road they'll continue to ride will wind and remain hopeful that they'll soon turn the proverbial corner.
I'm a bit surprised by my emotions, but there they are. I like this team, I'm enjoying this season.