So there is a lot of buzz (not surprising) around Shabazz Muhammad with the narrative that UCLA is set up for a big season in 2012-13. We like that because we expect Ben Howland to come through with a huge season this upcoming year. If Howland doesn't come through with a big year, Bruins will be in even worse shape after the anticipated mass exodus of mercenary recruits next season. All of the instant gratification generated from not so surprising commitment of Shabazz will fall apart like house of cards.
Now putting that aside serious concerns remain about how Howland is actually going to put together a team that doesn't seem to have any defensive core. Remember defense was the primary driver of Howland's 3 Final-4 runs and after 4 pathetic to mediocre seasons, Howland doesn't seem to have any player on his roster, who can serve as the same kind of defensive anchors from those
Ben Ball warriors such as AA, LRMAM, LMR, PAA and RW.
There is also the concern of lack of a true elite pg in this roster. UCLA's last Final-4's were led by guards such as Tyus Edney, JF, DC, and little bit of RW (after Howland was forced to play RW due to injury issues to DC). It is unclear Larry Drew II (who was upstaged by a fab freshman in Chapel Hill) is capable of stepping up. We are not sure whether Kyle Anderson despite his offensive prowess can be a viable solution as well.
While the pg concern hovers over the current program, there were couple of interesting quotes from two of best young point guards in the NBA this week that I am sure will be noted by recruits all around the country. The quotes are not pretty for Howland.
First, from Russell Westbrook (emphasis added):
"I think a lot of guys who went to UCLA were not able to do what they're capable of doing," Westbrook said. "Once they're able to get away, they get to expand their games."
Oof. Then from Holiday:
"I was only there for a year and I didn't touch the ball, didn't get a chance to show what I can do," said Holiday, who has started the past 182 games for Philadelphia and is establishing himself as a proven on-the-ball defender at point guard. "Once you get here, it's a lot more open, a lot more freedom. I don't want to say you experiment, but you get to see more, you get to feel the game more at this level."
Now to be fair to Howland, the quotes came from an article on Malcolm Lee's chances of breaking through for the Wolves, in which the writer took note of UCLA guards' success in the NBA.We also have to take Holiday's comments in context because I think Howland gave him enough PT and a fair shot, given that DC came back for his senior season. DC's return was unexpected as it became a reality after Howland's bad coaching job against Memphis, got him torched and exposed by Derrick Rose at the Final-4. When DC came back Howland went out of his way to give Holiday enough mins, even though at times he was being a brat and frankly outplayed by Malcolm Lee on defense (see the game against Washington State at Pauley and the games against ASU).
Still those quotes are going to stick out like sore thumbs. Especially the one from RW. They are pretty devastating. I doubt RW is out there with a vendetta against Howland. He is just being honest and telling it like it is and giving us a little hint as to players cannot wait to get the heck out of Howland's program. They will only strengthen the narrative around Howland being a very difficult coach to play for, who may help his guys with fundamentals, but limited them severely in an ugly and unwatchable offense.
Most of us were willing to go along with that ugly Howland offense during the early years because there was a core commitment to defense. However, after Howland himself gave up on his defensive principles by favoring guys like Nikola Dragovic, Reeves Nelson, the Wear Twins, the justification for that ugly offense went by the wayside.
Anyway, let's see how this off-season turns out. This year's class is not complete as Howland doesn't have a true pg coming in. He has wasted a lot of time on the recruitment of Tony Parker, who may or may not commit next week. However, none of the out-of-state, mercenary recruits will not matter much, if Howland doesn't put together a fundamentally sound team, that is in position to compete for banner number 12 at the Final-4 (after a top10 regular season) next year.