Random Thoughts On the Basketball Program: An Old Teacher's Perspective

Throughout the broadcast of the Mississippi State game, and especially at half time, the network focused on John Wooden, his Pyramid, and his teachings. I think many of us should have paid more attention to those segments than to the game because they anchored "student athletics" in a way that is sometimes overlooked in the quest of the false satisfaction of victories.

John Wooden was, and is, first and foremost, a teacher of young men. And, his broadcast comments were all rooted in his philosophy that the basketball court was not different from the English classroom -- they were both places where coaches taught and students learned life lessons. He taught the importance of character and detail, the value of hard work, and that, win or lose,  satisfaction was in knowing one did one's best.

Many do not know that the principles of the Pyramid were developed when he was teaching English, (in a high school if I recall correctly) and not as an attempt to mold a basketball team. They came to prominence because of his success on the basketball court. But, I'd bet that he molded and shaped more people while teaching English.

So, it is with a teacher's mind, one that taught 30 years in a Big 10 Law School, that I approach this Fan Post.

Ben Howland is the perfect Caretaker of the John Wooden legacy -- because he brings that same teacher's mind and perspective to the classroom/court that Coach brought when I was a student.

One need not be a "teacher" to be a successful coach. One can win basketball games with X's and O's without paying much attention to character, discipline, focus and effort. Calipari's teams and sc's last couple of years, under Timmeh, show that. But, at the end of the day, have those coaches prepared their players for life the way Coach and CBH have?

Ben Howland embraces all that is important in the Pyramid, the legacy and the overall value structure of UCLA. He is the right man for the job, win or lose, and I am pleased that no one here seems to doubt that.

So, let's talk about some of the issues that this losing season has been bringing up after the jump.

1. I think there is merit to some of the posts on recruiting. I have been there. I served on my law school's recruitment and admissions committees. Most of the time, we evaluated talent well.

That's a way of saying that all classes are different. All classes have a "personality". As teachers, we wanted kids who would go all out, work hard, pay attention -- do the very best they could do. Most of the time we got them, some times we didn't. Disappointed or not, they were ours for 3 years and it was our job to help them get the most out of themselves that they could.

Note I said "that they could". No one can force a student to be his or her best. That student has to want to. That desire is manifested in effort and attention.

CBH may be facing some of these issues now. He may have picked some kids who on paper or in interviews looked good -- but on the floor, don't. 

I think it is absolutely correct to call for a revaluation of "admissions" criteria. 

One problem is that the characteristic that most differentiates a true Ben Ball Warrior from just another athlete is effort. The players who many of us love the most were not the most talented in their classes -- the were the ones who bought into CBH's "selfless game", team first, lock down D, and leave it on the floor philosophy.

How do you recruit "effort". There is probably an implicit assumption that any kid who is a "5" is a "5" because he plays hard. I think we are learning that is not true. Just, as I learned that just because a kid got a perfect LSAT does not mean he would do well in law school or be a good lawyer. 

I think those of you who are calling for a "deeper look" are on the right track. Whether the prima donnas will allow that deep look is a question we will have to face. But, if they won't, fuck em.

2. Do you redesign the curriculum because some of the students want to learn something else? 

DG made clear that he wanted CBH to change his approach to the game because he, DG, didn't like to play the way CBH wanted him to play.

Reminds me of my junior year at UCLA. I took a Poli-Sci course in Political Parties thinking I'd be studying Democrats, and Republicans. Wrong. The professor taught us more than any of us wanted to know about African Political parties -- he was the world's leading authority on the subject. Is that what I wanted? No. Did I learn something? Yes. Quite a lot. And, it has served me well ever since.

Could I have avoided the shock of learning about Hootsie's and Tutu's? Yes. By reading the course description which I never did.

Is there any serious high school basketball player and family that does not understand what CBH will teach? Is there anyone who thinks you come to UCLA to play street ball? Do you think CBH went into homes and said, we will "change everything for you"? 

In many ways, these kids and families know a lot more about CBH and the way we play than he knows about them.

Yes, we may have made some recruiting mistakes. But, I cannot understand how a kid who comes here does not understand the demands that will be put on him. All out effort all of the time. If that's not what you want, don't take the class.

I want us to recruit kids who will live by the Pyramid and understand its definition of Satisfaction.

3. So what is a teacher to do with a class that is not learning? Throw out the curriculum?

I once had a law student come up to me and explain why he was never prepared in the criminal law class I was teaching by saying "I am going to be an investment banker. I don't need to know criminal law." I'll spare you what I said to him -- but I didn't change the course.

I did my best to teach what I thought had to be taught in ways that reached as many students as I could.

I think CBH is doing that. He believes in teaching D, footwork, positioning -- keeping the ball in front of you and all of the things that led to three straight Final Fours.

I am sure that he is trying hard to find ways to get his players to buy in -- be it basing game time on practice effort or knowledge of the system.

Some people are calling for him to throw in the towel and just let the kids run. The truth is that his system lets the kids run IF they can force a turnover or grab a rebound. His system is based on transition offense and we've had little this year because we are not playing D.

Also, for those of you who want to change the class so that we become a "run and gun" team -- uh, we've been there. 

Can you say "Lavin"? He had no curriculum, no set of values, no idea what he was doing and he did not teach. (Don't believe that, how about Barron Davis looking at the banners and saying "We would have hung one too if we had a coach.") Lavin just let the guys run. And, they ran the program into the ground.

Many of you seem fond of saying that "Coach" changed to accommodate his players -- as some form of justification for the idea that we should play a more run oriented game. Coach was very much like CBH. Structured, organized and focused. Down to the minute of every practice. The idea that he somehow would go wherever the players thought they wanted to go is so far off that it is laughable. I was there. And, I've read the book.

Some criticize CBH for being "stubborn". You know who else was steadfast when it came to his principles? Coach. What would have been easier than to let the nation's best young player have hair that was a bit too long? We all know the story -- Bill Walton was given a choice. A haircut or the team. Some might call that stubborn, too.

Lavin gave in. He just waived his arms around and looked busy.

CBH never stops teaching. No matter how far ahead or behind we are he never stops teaching. In the worst moments of the MSU game you could hear him screaming instructions -- giving lessons, even if it appeared that they were making no difference or of no importance.

4. CBH's job is to teach his students -- not to "entertain" you or me. He is a university coach with a responsibility to follow in Coach's steps to make his students better people as well as better players.

The word "entitlement" has been bandied about here, lately, in referring to some of our players. The argument goes that because of their preseason hype, they feel entitled to start and entitled to play they way they like to play.

I see "entitlement" on BN. More than one poster has said "I am entitled to be entertained". And, "I find the way we play to be boring." Want entertainment? You live in the entertainment capitol of the world. Go watch the Lakers.

Phil Jackson has one mission -- to bring in the dollars. He need not build character or teach. He has to put out a product that appeals to the masses even if the tools in his box don't shine with character.

And, for those of you wanting to be entertained -- I've searched on some of your posts -- I don't see any complaining about being bored during the Final Four repeats. 

I think what you're saying is that you feel entitled to win -- that you can't enjoy anything short of a victory. Not the full out effort of a less talented player or his growth over a period of years. 

Entitled to entertainment and entitled to win are, in my eyes, bandwagon philosophies and have no place in the world that Coach built.

5. Am I happy with where we are now?

No, not really. I see a group of underachieving students not grasping for and learning everything that their teacher has to offer. And, I see a somewhat frustrated teacher. But, that teacher has been through this before and I trust him to get things straightened out. I think some of the change will come in the form of players transferring out. IIRC -- Stanback didn't jump ship. He consulted with CBH and decided that there were other places where he would learn more. Same with DG.

We did well when the players and the system meshed. I'm not in favor of changing the system. If the players won't change to fit it, I'd change the players.

Which is one reason why I keep going back to a point I've made here often: Were the world perfect, as a teacher I would have preferred to grade effort rather than accomplishment. I learned that from Coach and I think the philosophy serves us well in all areas of life, including the class room and the basketball court.

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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