In the last eight years, Ben Howland is a former coach of the year. Proven(When he has a couple days) to be one of the best big game preparation guys with three final four appearances in three years. A master at relaunching decimated basketball programs. A guy whose success builds (or rebuilds) arenas everywhere he goes. The sheer economics of Coach Howland's accomplishments make him one of the best coaches in the country, if not the best, in the eyes of administrators. When you look around the coaching world his success is already far greater than 99% of college coaches will ever accomplish.
That being said, Coach Howland's game plans, line ups and public relations this season seem to indicate no one is at the helm. One year ago Ben Howland was the undisputed top successor to Coach Wooden; now that debate has reopened. After placing seven players in the NBA in the last three years, the thought of any of our current Bruins going to the NBA after this season is laughable.
What happened? Did Ben get replaced by a bizarro version of himself? One who doesn't care about winning, the alumni, the students or the fans. I'm worried that it's something explainable but not satisfying. My theory is based on the proven track record of Howland hitting head to head with the current needs of UCLA.
Let's start with the problem. Why the hell did Ben Howland, established coaching guru, coddle the hell out of Nikola Dragovic this season? Give him more shots, more minutes and more opportunities than he deserved? How does this happen at the expense of local players who have to answer to friends and family? AND how did this guy get here in the first place?
If I recall correctly Dragovic was not supposed to come to UCLA originally. At 17 years old he was listed by NBADraft.net as the #18 pick in the first round of the 2008 NBA Draft. UCLA had a commitment from a guy named Marco Spica who eventually ended up at Central Michigan.
Marco Spica, in his junior season this year, had the following stats:
7.0 pts 3.2 rebs on 49.7% shooting with 63% FT in 16.5 minutes
Dragovic, in his senior year, had:
12.0 pts 4.4 rebs on 37.2% shooting with 77.8% FT in 32.2 minutes
So, in half the minutes, Drago got out played by a similar Serbian player playing at a very small school. The guy we could have had.
So then I thought about the unusually large number of European players in the Pac-10:
Kyryl Natyazhko - Arizona
Rihards Kuksiks - ASU
Nikola Knezevic - Cal
Roeland Schaftenaar - OSU
Matei Daian - Stanford
Nikola Vucevic - USC
Nikola Koprivica - Wash St
So all Pac-10 teams, with the exception of Oregon, has a European player. None of these guys led their team in scoring. In fact, statistically, only USC's Vucevic had a decent season.
What makes Oregon different? Well their coach is fired and they have a new building opening up next year care of Phil Knight's Nike empire. They're in flux and their new building is paid for.
The rest of the teams, including UCLA, are perhaps taking sizable endowments from 'European influences' to: One give these guys a shot on the team and; Two, in the case of UCLA(Who needs money for the new Pauley) pay for big projects on campus. Since UCLA received the highly regarded Dragovic the request was to start him every game and make him the focal point of the Bruins offense; regardless of what happens.
Coach Howland, understanding the need for a new Pauley, recognized that this was the shortest path to the money and completely sacrificed the season to get the future recruiting magnet. With the Bruins sinking the former national coach of the year was left to answer to the press about his minutes allocation and the state of the team he didn't have control over. Some players couldn't handle the wasting of a year of their life: Gordon, Holiday. Others didn't have options for their 2 year plan for the NBA and are unhappy : Honeycutt, Lee, Morgan. All of them losing a year of their basketball careers over the business side of sports.
This theory is logical but is it possible? How much is a Dragovic worth? If true; Is the new Pauley built with Rago's bricks?