Bumped. - BN Eds.
Coach Wooden. Jackie Robinson. Lew Alcindor. Arthur Ashe. Pauley Pavillion. The Rose Bowl. 88 Straight. The four letters. U. C. L. A.
All of that is supposed to mean something, right? It is supposed to count for something. It represents something larger than one person, one team, or even an entire University. At least to me it does. It means that I can be proud when I say I attended UCLA.
Why? Because we have somehow found a way to do the impossible as it relates to athletics. Anyone can win. What UCLA has done is win by doing things the right way. Integrity. Principles. Discipline. All hallmarks of winning teams at UCLA…and all reasons why the names mentioned above found a way to transcend athletics, transcend UCLA, and make an impact on the world.
And it’s why Shabazz coming to UCLA worries me as much as it does.
Follow me here. UCLA comes off a disappointing season last year. Horrible finish. But looks like it might have something building this year. Pre-season top 20 team. Cover of SI. A potential #1 recruiting class coming in. Chianti is looking at Howland and the basketball program as his crown jewel.
Then the wheels fall off. Laptop theft. Maui Invitational. Moser starts to dominate at UNLV. Nelson leaves. Then comes back. Then leaves. Then gets kicked of the team. Carlino starts playing well at BYU. Sparse crowds. Lack of info around the Pauley renovation. The SI article. Missing the Tourney. Missing the NIT. Massive fan upheaval. Everything has gone to shit.
But there is Ben in Chianti’s office. Raving about his recruiting class. Apologizing for his mistakes. Saying things will get better quickly. Chianti listens. Chianti thinks. If Ben leaves, what will happen to my #1 recruiting class? What will happen to Shabazz? I know he wants to play for Ben. If Ben leaves, maybe Shabazz will too.
That. Right there. That moment is what has me so disappointed in - and concerned about - UCLA Athletics.
There are a number of reasons why Chianti could have chosen to keep Howland on. Money. He didn’t want to be on the hook for hiring his 2nd Hoops Coach after hiring his 3rd Football coach. Giving himself a scapegoat in case things get worse. But the one that troubles me the most…and the one that I think is most likely…is that he kept Howland so he could keep his recruiting class. He could keep Shabazz. And he could keep the possibility of a deep Tourney run next year with that recruiting class intact if he kept Howland. In short, winning. And winning at all costs.
In keeping Howland for the sake of a recruit, we are doing what Southern Cal does. We are risking the tradition of the program for a single athlete. We are keeping a coach who has clearly trashed Coach Wooden’s legacy for one year’s worth of wins. We are sacrificing long-term health for short-term gains. And that is a very, very slippery slope.
Southern Cal risked sanctions, bowl bans, and scholarship loss to get Reggie Bush. They wanted him. At all costs. And were willing to do whatever it took to get him.
UCLA wants Shabazz and other top-notch recruits. Badly. And they are willing to do whatever it takes to get them. They are willing to keep a Coach who has made a mess of the program to get him. They are willing to hire an AAU coach in Georgia as a recruiter who will guarantee them a few recruits. They are willing to overlook discipline issues for kids who “produce”. So if Chianti and Howland are willing to do all that, then what’s next?
This is what worries me about UCLA Athletics. It’s what concerned me when the SI article first came out (thankfully it didn’t turn out to be that severe). And it what worries me in the future. Is there going to be a far worse article down the road if Chianti keeps us on this path?
Chancellor Block, I get that you don’t care that much about Athletics. I get that you don’t want to give it much attention because you place so much value on our academic reputation. And part of me respects that. But I can also assure you that if UCLA loses its identity in Athletics, if Chianti is allowed to continue to drive this program into a ditch, it will eventually harm UCLA’s prestigious reputation…not only in Athletics but also in the communities you so covet.
Chianti is taking us down a very bad path. And he needs to go. Immediately. So does Howland. Otherwise you are opening our school up to something you want nothing to do with. Who cares if Shabazz comes or doesn’t. We are bigger than one person. We are bigger than one recruit. We are different. We are UCLA. We should be proud of that. Not hide in the corner from it.
Hold the Chianti please.