While we are completely obsessed with football, slowly UCLA basketball is moving into our calendar. Less than a month from now Bruin hoops will tip off Coach Ben Howland's 9th season in Westwood. While Coach Howland's team in his 8th season met BruinsNation's minimum expectations by making it to the tournament, they fell short of UCLA basketball's annual goals of contending for a national championship.
Actually never mind contending for a NC. Last year Bruins failed to win a weak Pac-10 conference by imploding in their last road trip. They went on to get blown out in the first round of the conference tournament. They earned a hard fought win over Izzo's Michigan State and then got bounced in a tough loss by Florida (again). However, anyone who understands and appreciates UCLA basketball (hello JF) knows that that kind of season was not up to regular Bruin standards.
Thankfully after some much needed assistant coaching shuffle these days there is a sense of positive momentum in the basketball program. For the Bruins to hold on to that momentum though they are going to have do a lot better than just making the tournament and then exiting with a moral victory in the first round. They are going to have to do this in their "home" away from home at the Sports Arena, as the House that Coach built is going through ... uhm ... a well discussed renovation.
So with that backdrop Coach Howland and his players held their annual Media Day yesterday.
As usual Howland and his players said the right things to the media gathered at the event. From the official site:
In the shadows of John Wooden's original chalk board in what was once known as `the Old Men's Gym,' Ben Howland's 2011-12 UCLA men's basketball team this afternoon held their annual Media Day in the now named Student Activities Center on the Bruin campus.
UCLA players, coaches and media mingled on the same floor where Coach Wooden's teams practiced from 1948-65 and was actually UCLA's full-time home floor arena from 1948-1955. Coach Howland opened the session talking about the Bruins' experienced returning front line.
"Our real strength is our front line," said Howland, beginning his ninth season as the Bruin head coach. "We have six players on the front line, with the addition of the Wears (David/Travis), we have Reeves (Nelson), Joshua (Smith), along with (Anthony) Stover and Brendan (Lane). That gives us a lot of size."
You can read the full rundown here which also noted the significance of UCLA using the same practice facility that Coach Wooden's Bruin teams also used for their workouts:
"That chalk board over there is the actual chalk board that Coach used to write on," he said. "It's the actual board itself, it's pretty cool. His 101st birthday is Friday, always right at the start of the college basketball season. Coach Wooden's teams practiced in here until Pauley was built (1965)."
That is nice. Now what would be even better is if this team actually matches the dedication and focus of Coach's programs. Actually I will be happy if this team can once again live up to the standards of "Ben Ball," which would entail playing hard in every possession in every game, keying on defense, rebounding and fundamentals.
"I feel like if we don't win (conference), it's a let-down," Smith said. "Last year, we had our expectations about winning, people didn't think we could. We saw the magazines that had us fourth, third, fifth ... we finished second, basically a game from winning it. ... We feel this year if we don't win it, it's a let-down."
Joshua Smith said he's 10 pounds lighter than he was at the end of last year, so that's around 315. He should get down to about 305 by the time the season starts, and that's a good number for him right now. The key will be for him to keep it off during the season. He said his goal is to play 30 minutes a game, and seemed more concerned about his penchant for fouls than his conditioning limiting his minutes.
Meanwhile, Ramona Shellburne of ESPNLA also caught up with Jerime Anderson, who reportedly feels "stupid" and "foolish" about his arrest incident from few weeks ago:
"It's definitely the worst decision I've made in my whole life," Anderson said Wednesday in his first public comments since the arrest on July 26. "I wish I can go back and make the right decision. It was just stupid, to be frank.
"My main thing is that I can't let one thing define who I am and the person I was raised to be. My parents gave me good morals and values, and from now (on) I have to stick to them."
Anderson said he had been advised not to discuss specifics of the incident, which was formally settled in court Sept. 15 when he pled guilty to misdemeanor charges of appropriation of lost property and trespass. But he did acknowledge taking a laptop, which had been left unattended on a campus bench.
Anderson was basically hit with what amounts to a wrist slap by Ben Howland. He was only suspended for two games and was allowed to practice during his "suspension."We wish Howland had taken a harder stance in this situation. It is noteworthy that a forward whose name rhymes with Ragovic was also hit with same token suspension the first time he got himself in trouble off the court.
If Anderson screws up again, it will be Howland who will have explaining to do. It will be his responsibility to protect the reputation and brand of those four letters as the "Caretaker" of Coach's program.
I will end with the following quote from Coach Howland which has already been fanshotted:
"I'm going to make a concerted effort to get out to the students, to the fraternities, to the sororities, to really reach out to our fans. To me it's so important. We have a chance to be a really good team this year and we need our fans, we need the support to be there for our team, these kids deserve that. They've worked really, really hard in the off season. So I'll really be encouraging our fans to come out and support the Bruins."
I hope the students, alums and fans come out in force supporting this team. I do believe they have more than enough talent to make a run and end the conference championship drought, which is now entering its fourth year in Westwood. Getting buzz by getting commitments from high profile recruits is always nice. However, none of that will matter if the Bruins can't bring home even a conference championship back in Westwood. Let's hope the boys get it done this season by finally playing "Ben Ball," which we haven't seen since the departures of initialized warriors from Westwood.
Anyway, we will have more on hoops in the coming days. It should be an interesting season.