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I can't quibble with Seth Davis' contention that this is a rebuilding year for Ben Howland. The team is minus three senior starters in Josh Shipp, Alfred Aboya and Darren Collison, plus NBA first rounder Jrue Holiday. Only Nikola Dragovic returns from the starting five.
What I liked though about his story was this quote from Ben Howland:
Howland's pleasant demeanor, however, belied the seriousness with which he approaches every season. That was apparent when I suggested that it must be refreshing for him to enter a season with such low expectations. "If you're at UCLA, there's always expectations. To think for a minute there's not would be very naive," Howland said. Then he pointed a finger at his chest, right above the Bruins logo on his shirt. "We have 'em. That's the main thing. I have them. We expect to be good every year."
Yes, this is a rebuilding year. But this is UCLA. And it's not just the fans who have high expectations. The coaches and players do, too and the head coach accepts that and owns it and makes no excuses.In Davis' opinion, this could be a long year:
But after watching Howland conduct UCLA's first practice later that evening, I have a message for Bruin Nation: Expect very little from this team. That way, if it does have a great year, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
It would foolish to expect a lot of a team that lost four starters from a unit that fell in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Losing players before their eligibility expires is a fact of life for the top programs, but few schools have had to deal with as many unexpected defections as the Bruins. Jrue Holiday averaged just 8.5 points as a freshman last season, yet he still turned pro and was selected 17th in the NBA draft. Russell Westbrook played nine minutes a game as a freshman, but by the end of his sophomore year was the fourth pick in the draft. Even a guy like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was not thought of as a great pro prospect, yet he left school following his junior season and is now a possible starter with the Milwaukee Bucks.
In all, Howland has lost seven underclassmen to the NBA in the last six years, including five in the last three. "It's a Catch-22," he said. "Every kid wants to be a pro. That's understandable. The fact is, when you get the best players, often times you lose them."
I have to admit, when he lays it out like that, Howland's task appears daunting. We have lost a lot of underclassmen to the pros, but as Howland states, when you get great players, sometimes you lose them early.
There will be a lot more words about the Bruins' hoop team on these pages. Davis' take is just one of many and, frankly, I haven't thought the roster through yet so I'm not going to sit here and refute or debate him. Davis is pretty good at what he does, I like him, so I'll give some credit to what he's saying.
More than anything else, his story serves as a reminder that basketball season is underway -- as he indicated, he interviewed Howland and the first formal practice of the season -- and the way the football season has been going for the past month, I for one am happy to have the diversion.