Will Ben Howland Address Issues Concerning UCLA Basketball Assistant Coaches?

Howland needs to bring in someone like Kerry Keating (or bring him back). Photo Credit:AP

At some level, everything that happens within the program is Ben Howland’s responsibility. If three recruiting classes were cratered, it’s on him. If Jerime Anderson failed to put in the work in the off season, it’s on him. If the team can’t shoot free throws, that’s on him. He’s responsible.

But while that’s true, it also has a certain, Truman-esque "the buck stops here" quality. It’s all the head man’s responsibility and that pressure comes with the seven figure pay check.

Within that all encompassing responsibility heaped upon the head man, are certain responsibilities that must be borne by players (past and present and by the assistant coaching staff.

And I think this staff is particularly lacking.

In Pittsburgh, Howland had Jaime Dixon. At UCLA, he thought he’d have Dixon, until Dixon was retained by Pitt and so he brought in Kerry Keating. These two are not just "any" assistant coaches. There were recruiting specialists and that quality made them or someone like them absolutely essential to Howland’s chance of success.

Dixon and Keating had some very similar qualities.

Both were excellent scouts, not only of the obvious, star players, but also of the ninth and tenth grade players who were up and coming. They both had the ability to project where a 15 year old would be in a couple of years. It’s not easy as some 15 year olds are fully formed both physically and skill wise and they stand out. But they aren’t going to get any better. The trick is spotting the baby-faced kid who’s still growing and developing.

After that, you have to know how to form relationship with kids, to lay the groundwork, to make them feel special and wanted. You have to speak their language, keep up with their technology. Dixon and Keating both know how to play that game.

You also need great relationships with the many bird dogs and amateur scouts out there. No one can see every player, great recruiting assistants know how to cultivate relationships with the guys on the ground and also know which scouts know what they’re talking about and which are full of crap. It’s not enough to just subscribe to HoopScoop and hope that Clark Francis knows what he’s talking about.

There are also internal skills that go along with the external skills I’ve mentioned (and I haven’t mentioned them all). Dealing with Howland isn’t easy. He is one of those people who feels he is expert if every facet of coaching, whether he is or isn’t. IMO, Howland is a great coach in practice and he’s very good in games. But he’s not necessarily expert in the recruiting skills and he’s surely not the warm and fuzzy personality that some top coaches are (and we can do another thread on retaining existing talent another time).

Dealing with Howland requires some certain skills. One, you need to have the confidence to go out and start recruiting kids whether Howland wants you to recruit them or not. I’m not saying "offer" because at the end of the day he has to sign off on the offers. I’m not arguing that. But you need to start recruiting kids long before Ben has signed off or even seen them.

Why? Look, we all know Ben is focused only on the next game, on the current season. He is not at all good at planning for the future, of looking down the line. This failure is manifest in our abundance of slow power forwards and mismatched talent. So, someone needs to do the planning for him and sometimes in spite of him.

Then, you need to have the guts and the balls to later convince Howland that he should be recruiting certain guys. You can’t wait until he likes someone, you need to convince him to like certain guys. If you don’t you’ll recruit only the guys with huge reputations that everyone likes and spend an inordinate amount of time on them. You’ll get some, miss on others and end up scrambling in between. So, you need a confident recruiting assistant. Interestingly, I think this guy ends up earning Ben’s trust — he wants someone to stand up to him.

Now, it’s time to name names.

I mostly want to exonerate Donny Daniels. From what I’ve heard, he’s not the greatest scout or recruiter but that’s not really his role. His role is to be Ben’s trusty sidekick and I get that Ben needs that. Ben and Donny are the veterans who can do the main coaching of the team in practice and games.

The recruiting failures, IMO, get mostly laid at the feet of Garson and Duncan. After asking a lot of questions of people who know and who follow this stuff more closely than I do, I’ve concluded that these two lack the vision, the organization and the people skills to effectively recruit players and they lack the guts and balls to direct Howland towards the right recruits, even if they could identify them and form the necessary relationships. Duncan in particular is a disappointment because he was thought to be Oregon’s great recruiter and he was brought in to replace Kerry Keating.

From what I’ve gleaned, these guys lack the foresight to identify and start recruiting the right players and they are unable to stand up to Ben and get him to recruit the right guys. As a result, we spend way too much time recruiting obvious five star players we’re never going to get and we’re always late on the kind of players we’d want if only we weren’t last in line and playing catch-up.

My theme for this off season is to stay on the assistants. Howland does not deserve to be fired and he if he’s on the hot seat, it’s still just warm. But his assistants are sitting their butts on a barbecue grill and I feel he must make at least one change if not two in order to get this mess straightened out.

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