Jordan Brenner of the ESPN Magazine has an interesting piece on whether Pac-12 basketball can make a comeback this season with UCLA. The reality is no one is going to care about Pac-12 hoops all that much if the Bruins continue to underachieve (or embarrass the four letter) like they have done last four years under Howland.
Brenner made an interesting point about UCLA and early defections dismissing Ben Howland's whining about the issue (emphasis added):
Of all the factors that have hurt Pac-12 hoops, early entry is the coaches' favorite target -- and also the least legitimate. When they whine about the exodus of top players, they sound as if they are two decades behind the times, not three time zones behind the East. UCLA coach Ben Howland repeatedly laments the loss before last season of Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt, two underclassmen who "weren't ready," he says, and ended up as second-round picks. Pac-12 coaches Sean Miller (Arizona), Kevin O'Neill (USC), Lorenzo Romar (Washington) and Mike Montgomery (Cal) all mentioned the departure of eight underclassmen following the 2009-10 season, conveniently forgetting that not a single conference player declared early for the 2009 draft. What do they think is happening elsewhere?
The same thing, obviously. In fact, the talent drain has been more severe in other leagues. Over the past 10 seasons, 43 players left the Pac-12 early for the draft. During that same period, the SEC lost 51 underclassmen, followed by the Big 12 (48) and Big East (44). The ACC lost 42, leaving only the Big Ten (19) in a different realm. But the myth endures through the coaches' words. Talking to Howland, it seems as if the world is united in an effort to prevent UCLA from retaining its best players. "We are in the land of agents," he says. "If you come over here in the summer, there's 30 pros here every day."
Yeah, because there aren't agents in DC, New York and Chicago. Or, as O'Neill says, "believe me, agents are the least of our problems. They can reach a guy whether he's in Anchorage, Coral Gables or Los Angeles."
It's also tough to take Howland's gripes seriously when you consider UCLA's recruiting profile. Muhammad, a smooth, muscular wing with a knack for putting the ball in the basket, is one of the top two players on any list of freshmen. The NCAA is still deciding whether he compromised his eligibility by reportedly allowing financial advisers -- who were also family friends -- to pay for two unofficial visits to schools. But if he takes the court, he is sure to be an impact player. And he is just as likely to bolt for the NBA after a season.
Anderson is in a similar position. At 6'9" with a point guard's vision and handle, the New Jersey native is already an enticing pro prospect. The NCAA is investigating his connection to an agent, but his presence would be a game changer for UCLA as well. (Good luck finding another 6'9" point guard in college hoops.) Again, though, there is little expectation that Anderson will spend much time in college. So Howland can't feign surprise if and when he leaves early. Instead, he and the other coaches might want to look closer to home in assigning blame for the conference's struggles.
I thought those grafs were interesting. The reason I think Howland's whining on this issue is ridiculous is because the recruiting strategy from his staff has been a debacle in last four years and it increasingly looks like last year's "monster class" was nothing more than aberration.
As we have discussed over the years Howland and his staff have been repeatedly caught by surprise by early defections last few years even though rest of the world knew that players would be running away from his program the first chance they got. DC came back for his senior year when his draft stock took a beat after he got pantsed by Derrick Rose in the Final-4 (thanks for Howland's terrible strategery to not have RW or LRMAM guard the John Calipari's paid mercenary).
Howland and his staff has also failed to prepare for early defections through not so prudent recruiting strategy that ignored solid local recruits in recent years, while wasting time and resources on going after national recruits who were never really interested in UCLA (again not going to rehash those discussions as you can check out the posts under the tag "Ben Howland era at UCLA" from last four year).
We know Shabbazz is gone one way or another. This was going to be a one year deal for him. Anderson will probably be gone if he has a very good year. We certainly hope Howland has options lined up so that UCLA doesn't have to go through another year of rebuilding BS next year. Either way if Howland doesn't get it done this year, we will be discussing candidates for head coaches instead of repeating the miserable cycles of last four seasons.