This can also be found on my blog "apatheticandenergetic.blogspot.com"
That Thursday night in Tucson, back in October, was the symbolic fall of Rick Neuheisel's tenure at UCLA. Many Bruin alums had been calling for Ricks head for weeks, but to see the Blue and Gold embarrass themselves on national television, both in the way they played and the way they handled the situation before halftime, left no doubt in anyone's mind (except maybe the only man that matters, Dan Guerrero) that Rick would be gone at the end of the year. In the past 3 nights Bruin fans have seen the symbolic fall of Ben Howland's tenure here at UCLA.
Lavin the Lizard was dismissed in 2003 after the bruins stumbled to a 10-19 finish, their first losing season in over 50 years. Howland, Lavin's successor, inherited an undisciplined and unmotivated team, and after an initial losing season Howland was able to mold that squad into an NCAA tournament team. From there, Howland went to three strait final fours. At the time, many believed in was Ben Howland's system of play, "Ben Ball," where man to man defense and quick, on-time defensive rotations made UCLA one of the best defenses in the country.
Howland's success was also aided by taking 3 and 4 star recruits, and turning them into NCAA All Americans. Players such as Farmar, Afflalo, Hollins, Collison, Westbrook, Love, and Mbah. Yes, these players were talented, but when made them perennial championship contenders was their ability to know their roles. When Love was covered, Westbrook cut to the basket and Collison rotated for an open three.
Warning signs began to appear when talented players began leaving Westwood after only 1 or 2 years at UCLA. Many grumblings from those in the know pointed to Howland's personality and style of play. To put it simply, Howland DEMANDED the best out of his players, in every aspect, and most recruits these days simply don't find winning defensive battles (65-54) as exciting as running up and down the court, scoring at will.
These warnings signs grew into significant concerns after Howland's 2008 recruiting class, ranked #1 in the nation, fell apart. Morgan and Holliday were both 5 star prospects and ranked in the top 3 in their positions, and Gordon, Lee and Anderson (all 4 star prospects and ranked in the top 15 of their positions). Holliday never blossomed into the star he was supposed to be, and left for the NBA after a year (where he now starts as PG). Morgan and Gordon were either dismissed or transferred. Lee became the team's leader last year, but left early for the NBA (beginning to sound familiar). Anderson is still with the team, but not showing the potential people expected out of him in 2008. 2009's class brought Honeycutt, a 5 star prospect who's effort was, to put it mildly, weak. Honeycutt decided to join Lee and leave early for the NBA. Mike Moser, 4-star, transferred, and 4-stars Stover and Lane spend much of the time on the bench. We all know the deal with Reeves.
If it isn't clear already, Howland has had some serious issues in player recruitment and development. That, to me, is reason #1 why he needs to be fired. UCLA has everything a recruit could want: tradition, television exposure, a basketball-crazed city, a record of putting players into the nba. Yet Howland is not able to bring in players who can make immediate impacts or, at the least, be good and stick around longer than one year.
Reason #2 Ben needs to go is his inability to make mid-game changes. After Maui, I have to ask, why the HELL are the Wear twins ever on the court. There should be a one-Wear max. Why is Laz Jones, who is having an atrocious year, starting PG? Why isn't Powell, a 4 star from SD starting? Why isn't Reeves Nelson, our most talented and driven player, not starting. Where is Brendon Lane?
It frustrates me that one of the greatest college basketball programs the game has ever seen has been reduced to mediocrity. Anyone who watched the ESPN feeds from Maui couldn't help but notice the laughing stock we, as a program, have become.
Howland needs to go, and he needs to go as soon as possible. Unfortunately I think it's going to take a last place finish before Guerrero decides to do something. This is not the UCLA basketball I've grown to love. The alumni, past players, and most importantly the fans deserve better than this.