FanPost

Two Major Questions Surrounding Howland and the Future Viability of our Basketball Program

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 Howland with this year's senior "leadership" - Photo via SB Nation

Well folks, I'm going to follow up my earlier effort on CBH and his recruiting, with a couple of datapoints and then throw the discussion to all of you. 

There's no doubt that something is wrong with our basketball program.  It's been one of the most discussed topics here on BN the last month or so.  Different folks have come up with different explanations, from recruiting shortfalls, defensive liabilities, Dragovic (a.k.a. the Belgrade Bricklayer),  to a stubborn refusal to utilize the zone or adapt to current personnel.

Moreover, it's no secret that BN has been supportive of CBH.  In fact, I'll come out and say that a lot of folks here (both moderators and regular posters) are/have had a "man-crush" on CBH and his tough, in-your-shirt defense.  He came to Westwood and rebuilt Coach Wooden's program after that f**king moron destroyed it

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One of the rare photographs of UCLA's basketball coach from 1996-2003 - Photo courtesy of ICIS.com

That being said, as Nestor pointed out earlier, while we are supportive of Coach Howland, that doesn't make him immune to criticism.  We should remember that our loyalty and concern is for UCLA, first and foremost, not to any single player or coach.  After last season's effort, I had some private concerns of where our program would go without the original core of leadership (with DC, JS, and AA2 gone).  This year the program was turned over to a new generation, or so we thought.  This was the year that Malcolm Lee, Jerime Andersen, Drew Gordon, and J'mison Morgan were supposed to take over and lead the Bruins to continued success.  Nikola Dragovic, James Keefe, and Mike Roll were supposed to be the seasoned veterans, helping guide the youngsters just as Hollins, Ced, and Dijon did for Farmar, Afflalo, and Shipp.

Obviously, that hasn't happened. Ultimately, Howland is the man responsible.  He's the head coach.  He's the boss.  He's the man we trust to be the caretaker of Coach Wooden's program.  He's the guy Guerrero is paying the big bucks too.  So, the failures of this season (and the shortcomings of last season) beg two major questions:

1. Can Ben Howland sustain the level of success he has built at UCLA?

2. Can Ben Howland recruit in the new basketball recruiting landscape created by the NBA's one-and-done rule?

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Is this an image Bruin fans will ever see again? - Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

1. Can Ben Howland sustain the level of success he has built at UCLA?

Howland has built an impressive reputation as a man who can build a basketball program.  He's done in at Northern Arizona, Pittsburgh, and now here in Westwood.  The man knows how to make something out of nothing, or in the case of UCLA, how to take a total train wreck and make it into a Final Four caliber program. Take a look at his track record:

Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

'94-'95: 9-17

'95-'96: 7-19

'96-'97: 21-7

'97-'98: 21-8

'98-'99: 21-8

Pittsburgh Panthers

'99-'00: 13-15

'00-'01: 19-14

'01-'02: 29-6

'02-'03: 28-5

UCLA Bruins

'03-'04: 11-17

'04-'05: 18-11

'05-'06: 32-7

'06-'07: 30-6

'07-'08: 35-4

'08-'09: 26-9

First, we need to remember that this is the longest Howland has ever been at once place.  He left Northern Arizona after 5 seasons, and left Pitt after 4 seasons.  In reality, while we know he can build a program (which he has now done 3 times in a row, in very impressive fashion), no one has seen what he does with what he has built. 

Second, let’s look at what happened with the two programs he built, both of which are still in the hands of the assistant (Mike Adras at Northern Arizona, Jamie Dixon at Pitt) he left the team with:

Northern Arizona Lumberjacks since 1999: 

'99-'00: 20-11

'00-'01: 15-14

'01-'02: 14-14

'02-'03: 15-13

'03-'04: 15-14

'04-'05: 11-17

'05-'06: 21-11

'06-'07: 18-12

'07-'08: 21-11

'08-'09: 8-19

 Pittsburgh Panthers since 2003: 

'03-'04: 31-5

'04-'05: 20-9

'05-'06: 25-8

'06-'07: 29-8

'07-'08: 27-10

'08-'09: 31-5

It’s kind of a mixed bag.  Northern Arizona has regressed to a pretty mediocre status, with a few 20 win seasons sprinkled in.  After Howland left, the wins definitely went down.  Pitt, under Dixon, on the other hand, has maintained the level of success Howland reached.  On that score, it's hard to reach any kind of conclusion on the long term viability of a program built by Howland.  Northern Arizona is on the slide, but is that because, well, how do you get recruits to go to Flagstaff, Arizona?  Or is it an early indication of things to come?  Pitt has continued to do very well in the Big East, giving our own Bruins some very tough battles in the Big Dance, but is that because Jamie Dixon is a pretty darn good coach?  Pittsburgh is no Los Angeles, but having a brand new arena to lure the recruits can't hurt.

From Howland's history, here is what we do know: his teams peak around his fourth year.  Northern Arizona, Pitt, and UCLA all hit their peak around his fourth season at the helm (with our Final Four runs coming in Howland's third, fourth, and fifth seasons).  We're well past that point now.  Now the question is whether Howland can sustain that sucess and we have no evidence to guide us.  Does our program fall into mediocrity like Northern Arizona or does it sustain elite status like Pitt?  Does Howland have what it takes to maintain what he built?

This is new territory for our head coach. UCLA is, as he says, his dream job, so it's not like he'll be riding off to another destination as he did in Flagstaff and Pittsburgh.  Is he another Jeff Tedford (a good, but not great, coach who can build a program from rubble, build some excitement, but fail to reach the top)?  Or, is he like Bill Self (a solid coach who needed time to eventually reach the peak)?

On this question, I don't know if anyone has an answer.  We're in undiscovered country.  Howland has never been in this situation before, so truth be told, while we all support and love the guy, we have no idea if he's up to the task.  After all, he left before anyone could find out in Flagstaff or Pittsburgh.

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God, I hope Coach Howland isn't the basketball version of Tedford - Photo courtesy of Zimbio.com 

2. Can Ben Howland recruit in the new basketball recruiting landscape created by the NBA's one-and-done rule?

I've made no secret that I think recruiting (i.e. talent evaluation, scouting, etc.) is a major flaw in our program, at least, since 2006. My hope is that, for all of the thoughts, arguments, hypotheticals, etc. tossed around BN that the answer to our current woes is simply that Howland and his staff missed big time on the current sophomore class.  Hopefully, once our program is purged of the mentally soft players that make up this roster Howland can rebuild the program around a core of true Ben Ball Warriors in the Farmar, Afflalo, Mbah a Moute, Mata-Real, Westbrook, etc. mold.

But, there's something I think no one is talking about.  Look at Howland's track record above.  His success came before the NBA gave us the idiotic one-and-done rule (for the record, I support the idea that basketball should follow college baseball's model).  Yes, I know what you're going to say: "well, one-and-done is so new, that only a couple of coaches (Bill Self and Roy Williams) have done well in the new regime."  While that's true, I don't think we can dismiss the possibility.

Nestor made an astute observation earlier. Coaches like Self and Roy Williams are still doing very well, in spite of the major changes one-and-done brought to college basketball.  Obviously, they have adapted to the new system and continue to thrive in it.  What's the difference between those twoand Howland?  Okay, aside from the fact they both have a national title, both guys aren't just great recruiters, but great at retaining talent.  What does that mean?  As Nestor can better explain than I, in a nutshell, Kansas and North Carolina have been as successful as they have been because each coach has managed to convince a major talent/anchor of the squad to pass on the NBA and stay for an extra year or two (Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich at Kansas; Sean May, Rashad McCants, Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson at UNC).

On that score, Howland has not shown he is very good at retaining talent. On one hand, Collision shocked everyone by coming back for his senior season.  On the other hand, Jrue Holiday is the prime example of not retaining talent for an extra year.  The kid came in with all of the hype, but showed us very little.  He hurt his draft stock and, had he stayed, I think he would have improved his stock (and gotten himself more money in the process).  Moreover, it was clear Holiday wasn't buying into Howland's vision for UCLA basketball. As much as we love Westbrook, he punched his ticket to the NBA as soon as he could.  Keeping him for an extra year would have been huge.

I'll come out and say it: I've been very critical of Holiday, but we could have used him this year.  Okay, strike that.  We could have used someone with his talent, but with Arron Afflalo's attitude this year.

Howland has not done a lot since one-and-done became the way of the world.  The first NBA draft with one-and-done in effect was the 2006 draft (following the 2005-2006 basketball season).  That was the Adam Morrison draft. Or, as Charlotte Bobcats fans call it, the "what the hell did we do?!" draft.  When you look at Howland's record, he was winning before one-and-done impacted college basketball.

See, I know what people want to say: "Nuh-uh!  Howland did well after the 2005-2006 season. We went to two Final Fours in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008!"  Yes, that's true, but how did we get that far?  Not with one-and-done players.  In the '05-'06 season, we went to the Final Four because of Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo, Ced Bozeman, Ryan Hollins, and Josh Shipp.  Those kids were all recruited before one-and-done.  In the '06-'07 season, we made it to the Final Four with Darren Collision, Josh Shipp, Arron Afflalo, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Lorenzo Mata-Real.  All of those guys were brought in before one-and-done. In the '07-'08 season, yes, we had Kevin Love, a for-sure one-and-done player, but he alone didn't get us to the Final Four.  Most of thought he would be the final piece to make our banners an even dozen, but he didn't get us there alone.  That team was built around Collision, Shipp, Russell Westbrook, the Prince, with key contributions from Alfred Aboya and Mata-Real.

Look at it long-and-hard Bruins.  Every Final Four run was built around the original core of Ben Ball Warriors, kids brought in before the NBA got stupid and gave us one-and-done.  Those guys were true Bruins, here for at least two years (with the exception of Kevin Love), most for at least three.  These were the Howland recruits before one-and-done.

In my recruiting post I argued:

Since 2006, the only two players who came in with legitimate talent were KL and RW. They’re both in the NBA now. Since 2006, CBH has failed to bring in any quality players who would form a foundation for this next generation. There have been no players like JS, DC, AA2, or LRMAM brought in since 2006. That’s four recruiting classes and I’m seeing a lot of hype, but no results.

Some folks may want to call it a coincidence, but in my opinion, our recruiting has been on the downward slide since 2006, the same year the NBA instituted one-and-done.  Yes, our current sophomore class was rated as the top recruiting haul in the country, but as we all know now, everyone missed on those kids.  Holiday had the wrong attitude for Ben Howland basketball, Lee has been listless, Andersen is a point guard who can't play point guard, Morgan is clueless on the floor, and Gordon was a psycho.  Is one-and-done to blame for our downturn?  No, it isn't.

The question is whether Howland can adapt to this new landscape and manage to evaluate talent and attitude and bring in the right kind of players for UCLA to be successful.  That is a major question in my mind given the lack of quality on this current roster (built of players recruited after one-and-done).  As we all know, Howland has been extremely stubborn at times (insisting on playing man defense rather than zone, sticking with the Belgrade Bricklayer, etc.) and not shown the kind of flexibility and innovation that made us great under Coach Wooden. Howland can be stubborn and sometimes that works in our favor, but if he cannot adapt to recruiting in this one-and-done world, our long term future looks bleak, unless the NCAA does us a favor and tells these young players that we're doing things the way baseball does them.

Since we all know how impotent the NCAA is, it's on Howland to learn to bring us the next Farmars, Afflalos, Princes, Aboyas, and Collisions in this one-and-done landscape.

Two major questions Bruins. Not sure what the answer is, but our program's long-term future hinges on how those things turn out, in my opinion.  Fire away with your thoughts.

GO BRUINS!

<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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