Hey all. As the title of this fanpost suggests I'm a 'howler,' and I'm making no attempts to hide this. Furthermore, I'll come out and say that I only began following UCLA sports when I arrived at UCLA in 2006. The first Final Four had already gone down, and I was lucky enough to bear witness to the following two (and watch RW develop from the 06-07 season to beast mode in 07-08, KL, AA, watching DC run the point, blow away people off the dribble, and so many other awesome memories) So you can take what I have to say from these admissions. Now, as an alum, I just wanted to write a few thoughts down about calling for Howland's resignation as this juncture. I'm still not convinced that we should pull the plug on Ben Howland.
I live in South Korea, and one of the things that links me back to America is UCLA and UCLA sports. Because of my work schedule I don't often get to watch UCLA games in any sport. South Korea has really fun internet censorship that I have to sidestep around, which makes getting a quality stream of a game all the more difficult. So when I tuned in at work Friday afternoon and saw the score 65-55 UCLA, I was beyond stoked. I honestly wasn't expecting for us to win this one, and it looked like we were about to pull off a quality road win. Like all of you, I was devastated when we pissed away this lead.
Howland is not without his misgivings. His stubbornness about sticking to M2M has cost us games. His insistence on relying on people like Nikola Dragovic (who by the way, while still on campus punched out a friend of mine over some nonsense) is ludicrous. The things I wanted to address are his alleged meltdown over the past several seasons (which yes, have been painful) and his recruiting/interactions with players.
More after the jump.
KL (#3 c/o 2007)
Jrue Holiday (#4 c/o 2008)
Tyler Honeycutt (#3 c/o 2009)
Josh Smith (#7 C c/o 2010)
(all info scout.com)
etc etc. I could do more homework and call up more of Howland's blue chip recruits, but it's beside the point I'm trying to make. Let's looks at these four for now. KL graced us with his presence. He was never staying a second year and we all knew that going into it. He very nearly carried us to an NC, and the greater Bruin diaspora remains forever thankful for his time at UCLA. Now for the bottom three. Jrue Holiday came on campus thinking he was the next KL style 1 and done, and forced this on us by doing exactly that. Should Jrue Holiday have gone to the NBA? That's debatable. Should he have stayed another year? Probably. Did he really contribute in the way that KL did, where we waved him off instead of shaking our heads? No. Same can be said for Honeycutt.
You want your coaches to attract this kind of talent. Howland has proved that he can draw incredible recruits to the school, and we shouldn't forget this. How much of the result on the court is directly a result of BH. A lot. But he's not the one shooting the ball, not making the extra pass, not walking back on defense,etc. And I don't think BH condones any of this behavior either. I think the issue is on the player who come to UCLA already looking past UCLA for the NBA. There's not much anybody can really do about that. You have an 18 year old kid who has been told that he's the greatest basketball player that's ever graced the earth since probably elementary school, who dreams of being an NBA star. Then they get recruited by a top-tier, storied program like UCLA and their heads inflate even more. We all know Howland for his stubbornness and being hard-nosed. This doesn't sit well with a lot of these high end recruits, when Howland gives them their first reality check that they probably have ever had. And it causes derision in the team, which translates to effectiveness on the court.
Then we have our shining Final Four squads, built on a combination of skill, determination, and yeoman efforts by players who were overlooked by other schools. And we produced stars. LRMAM, AA2, RW, were not initially your flashy recruits with tons of media hype. But they were all integral to our success on the court. There has been a lot written about Howland's ability to develop players, so I need not go further on this point. But I don't think that because so much has been said about this, that we should forget this trait about him and write this off. Howland has proven that he can develop players that come to UCLA ready to learn. This is a good thing.
Let's talk about Reeves Nelson for a second. Reeves is sort of the exception that breaks the rule. On the one hand, he was your yeoman fan favorite in the mold of AA2 or LMR at last initially. He bust his balls, he had a black eye for the first part of his UCLA career, he was tatted up, and it was really hard not to like him. When he first arrived on campus, I was very excited to see where Howland would take this kid. I had nothing but high expectations for him. And last season, he did extremely well, gaining honors left and right. On the other hand, he was an giant headcase, perhaps not in the mold of JH or TH, but still presents Howland the same issue. You've got a prima donna on your hands. Maybe I don't have a lot of faith in people's ability to change or be changed by another's guidance. But I don't think Howland's loss of RN (dismissal) JH (NBA jump) TH (NBA jump) discredits him.
In sum, I don't blame Howland for bringing the wrong kind of kid on campus. It's hard to predict how a player will change once they get into college. By the their rankings, BH brought in some extremely highly touted players like KL, who panned out and was a team player, and JH and TH who just sorta were there. How could you predict the flops of the latter two?
Here's where I'm about to tread on sacrosanct ground.
John Wooden is obviously a legendary Coach. But I just wanted to point out something for food for thought.
From 1948-56 John Wooden brought UCLA a conference championship 6 of 8 years. Then, from the 56-7 season to 60-61 season (5 seasons), JW didn't either win a conference championship or bring UCLA to the NCAA tournament. But, in those off years, where was UCLA stacking up in the rest of the conference?
56-7 tied second place
57-8 third place
58-9 tied third place
59-60 tied second
60-61 tied second
not bad, eh?
Ben Howland at UCLA in 8 seasons has brought UCLA to the NCAA tournament 6 times. Three of these are the coveted Final Four years. Let's look at the conference results on years where we weren't in the Final Four
03-04 (Howlands first year) seventh *ouch*
04-05 tied third
09-10 tied fifth
Give Howland a pass on his first year, and outside of the abysmal '10 season, it's not too shabby. There's still the fact that Howland is still 6/8 on tourney appearances. Now Howland has not met expectations in the past few years, I concede. But calling for his resignation? I don't think that's exactly fair. This season is falling in the toilet rapidly, and I don't expect us to make the tournament short of a miracle run in the inaugural Pac-12 tourney. But still, I wonder if people would have been calling for Wooden's resignation during the 56-61 seasons? I see similarities between the two coaches where they enter UCLA on a high note, become highly acclaimed, then experience a drought. We're definitely in Howland's drought. But is this the time to fire him? I think calling for his pink slip is a bit premature.