UCLA Basketball's Brave New World

Bumped. GO BRUINS. - N

AP Photo

We keep contrasting the approach and attitude of a player like Drew Gordon to the attitude of players like AA, PAA, DC, LRMAM, LMR, etc. The differences are easy to see. I am discouraged with Gordon leaving our team, but mostly, I am regretful that a player with Gordon’s talent doesn’t have AA’s or LMR’s work ethic and team-first approach.  That would have been an awesome combination and a great asset for our team.

So we can ask why Gordon didn’t have the same attitude as our former BB Warriors.  To me, though, a bigger question is why we ended up with an attitude like Gordon’s in our program, and why is appears so hard right now to get some of our younger players or new recruits to buy into CBH’s system.

My answer is that the the dynamic of UCLA basketball has changed, that we are attracting a different type of player, and CBH has become a victim of his own success. I will expand on this point after the jump.

It is key to realize the differences in UCLA basketball when CBH took over and where it is now. When CBH came in, we were wallowing in the ashes from the arson job CHP did on us. Aside from tradition, there was nothing particularly distinctive about coming to UCLA at that time.  Tradition meant a lot to fans and alums, but not so much to 17 year old basketball prodigies. Ask Bill Walton. As such, the first players CBH got were ones who were willing to put their necks out and try something daring. Obviously they had skill to play D-1 BBall, but they also had something in their makeup that made them want to come to UCLA despite all the uncertainty if offered at the time: a new coach, a new system, a rebuilding program. But it also had potential.  I liken it to Brian Price’s attitude when picking UCLA FB over $c* and its limos and titles. As a result, we got pioneers with team-first attitudes and work ethics like JF and AA and LMR and RW and JS and others. Granted, all good players, but some of them could have gone to nearby higher profile programs like Furd or the Standard, or national programs like Duke, MSU, NC, etc.  Something in them made them buy-in to CBH and UCLA.  Still, with the exception of KL (and we know why he was different), the biggest name recruits in the country, the ones who saw college as a mere stepping stone to the NBA, the ME-first guys, didn’t come to UCLA those first formative years of CBH’s reign. They still wanted the biggest flashiest stage that would showcase themselves first.  But those guys who did come, their attitude, and CBH’s system produced results that speak for themselves. 

Jump forward a few years, UCLA is now a marquis program.  UCLA goes to 3 straight Final 4’s. UCLA sends multiple players, some previously unheralded (LRMAM, RW), to the NBA lottery and draft each year. UCLA gets its players lots of press and pub and TV time. UCLA is no longer just a place to learn basetball and grow a program, it is now an opportunity. Those big time HS stars who saw NBA first, and team and personal development second (and education somewhere after), now looked at UCLA differently. Guys like Holliday and Gordon, who would never have given UCLA a thought in CBH’s first year or two, now saw UCLA in a new light.  UCLA could be their own personal stepping stone to the NBA, even to the degree where they believed CBH's system would change to showcase them, and not vice-versa. I guess I can’t blame the players for looking at UCLA that way, same as I can’t blame CBH for bringing them in. On the surface, they seemed like great kids and their BBall talent was something any coach would have killed for.  As it turns out, they were the wrong fit for our program.  In retrospect, the differences between the priorities and work ethic of an Afflalo and Collison and the Prince, compared to many of the new guys, is having a crippling effect on UCLA basketball.

It is important for UCLA and CBH to recognize this culture shift around our program and learn from it.  Because CBH and his philosophy are here to stay, it will be critical to separate the Hollidays and Gordons from the true BB Warriors who rebuilt this program a few years ago. While I think CBH could stand a touch more flexibility, the main thing going forward is finding guys with heart like LMR and PAA, and hidden talent like LRMAM and RW, and upside like DC and AA, and devotion to a program and its history like KL. We can’t be blinded by talent alone.  The combination of those players and CBH’s system is what returned us to prominence, and that is what is lacking in our current slip. It remains to be seen how all of our new players fit. Guys like RN and ML seem to have the right makeup.  Where will Bobo and JA and TH and MM and the others fit?  Are these players and our incoming recruits coming to UCLA for the team, or simply for themselves?

Obviously there are some overlaps in the timeline with the players who did come in (Ariza, Stanback) or ones we avoided (Sidney), and the case isn’t black and white.  It’s the large gray area that makes this hard.  But when you throw a great party, pretty much everyone wants to come.  We have to be more careful who we invite.  It’s clear that UCLA’s place in the college basketball landscape has changed.  CBH needs to make sure that the attitude and ethic and goals that our incoming recruits bring with them have not.

<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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