Over at Bruin Report Online (BRO) Tracy Pierson posted a poignant analysis of the state of UCLA basketball . Tracy sounds off a number of the themes we have been exploring and discussing throughout the season and lays out his thoughts on both the short term and long term prospects of our program.
The article is behind subscription firewall and you can read it by going here. If you haven't subscribe to BRO, I would encourage signing up for BRO subscription for reading pieces like that. In any event there are few passages on Nikola Dragovic that are extremely relevant given the discussions we have had on BN for weeks. If anyone wants to just forget about what transpired with Drago during this past season can be forgotten just because he is gone, think again. Tracy lays out why Howland's Drag use could potentially have ramifications on the state of UCLA basketball, which we are publishing with permission (emphasis added throughout):
While many fans might believe we're lingering a bit too much on Dragovic and his impact, we believe it's quite the contrary. Howland's use of Dragovic has impacted his reputation in recruiting as well as greatly disrupted the environment and chemistry within the program. It comes down to simply this: Howland preaches that he emphasizes defense and playing hard, but insisted on playing Dragovic, who did neither, and did it in a very auspicious way.
Internally, players in the program, who bought into the Howland-established parameters for playing time of defense/playing hard, were disillusioned. From what we've heard, players, of course, recognized that Dragovic wasn't the exact embodiment of Howland's philosophies, yet he played 33 minutes per game. In fact, some recognized that Dragovic was the poster boy for the extreme opposite. It's very difficult for a player, during the season to gain weight and fat. Most of the time players lose weight and muscle mass during the season, burning off so many calories through practice and the games. But Dragovic did, in fact, gain weight and fat, which is mind-boggling. If you look at his body in September and compare it to the end of the season, it's clear that it got softer and rounder.
Externally, recruits, AAU coaches and the SoCal recruiting community generally don't know what Howland stands for now. As we explained in the January article, recruits in the last five years knew that, at the very least, if they came to UCLA, they were going to be rewarded by playing hard and playing defense. While arguments always could be made that Howland isn't a players' coach, that there isn't a warm/fuzzy type of feeling to the program, they knew they were going to be well coached, and well-prepared for the NBA, and that defense and playing hard would be what got them on the court - since that's what Howland always preached. Now, they don't know what to believe, and don't know what they'll get if they come to UCLA.
All in all, yes, a losing season will do this to any program. When you're losing, the warts are glaring. When you're winning, those same warts tend to be disregarded.
But this goes beyond the effect of losing. Things happened this season - namely the use of Dragovic -- that could very well resonate beyond this season, that might not be disregarded even after UCLA gets on the winning track again. It wasn't the losing, but the way UCLA lost. It's not a matter of whether UCLA can bounce back from one losing season, but whether Howland can re-establish the reputation and image that his program had before.
Again those are just few grafs. You need to read rest of the article here, which also provides comprehensive analysis on number of other issues such as the state of our backcourt, competition at the 4 spot and of course recruiting outlook from here on out.
As far as UCLA basketball is concerned, I have always had the highest amount of reverence observations Tracy and his colleague Greg Hicks have made over the years. What Tracy offered up above is very disconcerting to say the least. We are going to have to watch extremely closely how Howland and his staff finish up this recruiting season, start the next one, and then observe the chemistry in next year's team.
The upcoming few months are shaping up to be the most crucial time period in Ben Howland era since he arrived in Westwood. How he operates in the coming months will give us answers on how this past year's Drag use (among many issues impacting the program) was just an aberration or whether it will haunt us for a prolonged period of time.