While the cloud of uncertainty hovers around Ben Howland's UCLA basketball program, the state of recruiting for Bruin hoops is even dire. Many of us have been wrapped up in the annual roller-coaster drama of UCLA football. Yet while the football team has been going through its traditional October slump, Howland and his staff has been whiffing on the recruiting trail, putting UCLA basketball in very precarious shape heading into this year's boom or bust season.
Heading into this season Bruins needed to land at least one elite point guard and couple of post players for the class of 2013. Yet as of right now Bruins are left with a combo guard, a shooting guard and no viable options for post or at the point guard. To get a sense of how precarious the recruiting situation is let's take a quick look at our current roster:
PG Larry Drew II (Sr) Kyle Anderson (Fr)
SG Norman Powell (So), Jordan Adams (Fr)
SF Shabbazz Muhammad (Fr), Tyler Lamb (Jr)
PF David Wear (Jr)
C Josh Smith (So), Travis Wear (Jr), Tony Parker (Fr)
Bold: Players who are going to be gone after this season due to graduation or draft.
Italics: Players who could be gone after this year due to draft or skipping Howland's program early because of being sick of it.
So we could be left with just the following returning players next year
SG Norman Powell (Jr), Jordan Adams (So)
SF Tyler Lamb (Sr)
PF. David Wear (Sr)
C. Travis Wear (Sr), Tony Parker (So)
This is a pretty bad situation especially at the frontcourt. This year once again Howland and his staff tried their failed strategy of ignoring local recruiting and chasing after national big names. They caught "lighting in a bottle" last year (and that bottle is still under NCAA investigation) by landing out of state recruits with AAU connections to one of the assistant coaches. That "Kentucky" type of strategy hasn't panned out for Howland as Bruins have whiffed with number of national targets they never really had any shots with (Howland is still waiting for the signatures of Ray McCallum, Quinn Cook and number of others.
Anyway, this year Howland targeted Devin Williams a PF from Monte Verde, FL. Howland thought he had a good shot with him but it looks like he is not all that interested in the Bruins. That's it. Bruins don't have any other elite PF prospects on their radar. Meanwhile, in the backcourt UCLA secured the commitment of Zach Lavine (who was always a Bruin fan). Right now due to his growth spurt Lavine looks more to be a combo guard. Bruins don't have any true pg recruit lined up as all of Howland's "national targets" (such as Tyler Ennis, Rodddy Peters, and Rysheed Jordan) have already committed elsewhere or don't seem to have any real interest in UCLA.
Meanwhile, guys from California such as Dakari Allen, a defensive oriented SF who may turn out to be a classic "Ben Ball Warrior" have already committed to a program like San Diego State because he never got any early interest in UCLA. Cal has locked up another 5 star California recruit Jabari Bird, which follows a pretty good class from last year that included 4 star PG Tyrone Wallace, who UCLA could have signed if they scouted and recruited him much earlier.
So Bruins are in limbo with a combo guard, a shooting guard and no posts or point guards. All Howland and his staff is left with is gambling on a boom or bust season. And if 2012-13 doesn't go our way in the form of a conference championship and a Final-4 run, it will probably mean UCLA recruiting prospects becoming even more abysmal heading into next off-season.
This is all results of what we have been discussing for years. Howland has never been a great strategic recruiter and he's never been a great manager of his roster and he's never been a great evaluator of talent. At Pitt he had Jamie Dixon. At UCLA in his early years he had Kerry Keating. All of the confusion and inconsistency in recruiting since has been due to Howland's failure to recognize his own limitations and failure to replace KK. Scott Duncan was supposed to be Oregon's great recruiter under Ernie Kent. That did not translate to his work at UCLA. At present, we see no one that really fills that role.
See, it's not enough to just identify the best players in the nation and then try to charm them/recruit them/buy them into coming to UCLA. Sometimes it works as it did this year, other times it just doesn't. That's checkers. Real recruiters play chess. They can picture the roster years in advance, they get how players will develop down the line, they know what players match the personality of the head coach.
If we started the Howland era with the current staff, we doubt we get guys like PAA, LRMAM, RW and may be AA. Lot of this will not be news to folks who have been following the Howland discussion for years. Yes, he is a decent practice coach. It's debatable whether he is a great in-game coach given all the flops we have seen in recent years.
Howland knows how to run a practice, to coach defense, to get guys to rebound -- when he has the right type of unselfish kid. A team of prima donna stars does not necessarily work for him, he's not Calipari and this isn't Kentucky. And yet, he and his staff has been chasing after those shiny Kentucky type of recruits and mostly whiffing last few years (except for this past year's aberration).
All of this has resulted in the fate of UCLA basketball being clouded in uncertainty and depending on lots of IFS heading into 2012-13 season. That's not a good situation and this is exactly what happens when we have an incompetent athletic director, who can't provide sound advice. Howland has assistant coaches who can't recruit too well (and that includes all the qualities, not just "closing") and a boss who is unable to sit him down and help him work through the flaws in the program.
Just like football all we are left with heading into 2012-13 season is desperate hope that the fluke recruiting class (provided it will not be blown up by the NCAA) can bring UCLA back in the national scene as an elite program making a serious run for its 12th national championship. But we all know putting in everything in the "hope" basket is never a sound strategy.