The basketball season is now finally over for the rest of the country. For UCLA, the season has been over far too soon too often in recent years. It goes without saying how BN feels about Ben Howland. He should no longer be employed at UCLA. As we spelled out prior, had Chianti Dan any sense of accountability, UCLA athletics would be sitting in an entirely different posture. In short, we have made our position clear regarding Ben Howland in a number of posts by different authors, most recently yesterday in comparing UCLA to other elite college basketball programs.
But the reality of the situation is that Howland will be back next season. He has another chance, a chance no other UCLA coach has ever been given. Let's make something abundantly clear: we are not rooting against Howland.
If you look back at the body of work on BN over the years, you will see that BN has been one of Ben's loudest supporters. We truly hoped that Howland would be the Caretaker of Westwood, guiding Coach's programs to winning ways by playing tough, fundamentally sound defensive basketball, instilling discipline and pride in our players, as we saw with guys like AA, JF, RW, DC, LMR, LRMAM, etc.
We want Ben Howland to succeed, if for no other reason than it means UCLA is succeeding.
But any success that Howland enjoys needs to be put in the context of the last four years.
Howland has recruited a very good player in Jrue Holiday. Many reports say that Howland has Shabazz Muhammad coming as well. Shabazz would be the best recruit since Kevin Love or maybe another lefty named Ed O'Bannon. There is potential for next year's team to be very good.. The best recruit since
But making the NCAA tournament is not good enough, certainly not at UCLA. As we pointed out yesterday, Tubby Smith never missed the tournament, yet the fan base in Kentucky ratched up the pressure, because for an elite college program, simply making it to March Madness isn't enough.
The same is true for Howland. Next year, Howland must:
- Bring the glory back to Pauley Pavilion by dominating what looks to be a pathetic Pac-12 next season, grabbing the conference title;
- Bring UCLA back into the national discussion by finishing ranked in the top 10 nationally; and
- Make a serious run in the NCAA tournament, making it to at least the Final Four so that UCLA, one of college basketball's elite blue-blooded programs is truly part of the March Madness again.
But as importantly, Howland must fix the long term health of the program, which he destroyed following his three consecutive Final Four seasons. Let's talk about that aspect after the jump.
A very good-to-great season next year would mean UCLA has had one good season in the last five years. Success next season would not be enough if everyone leaves after the season without a class of recruits to replace them.
We are not saying that every player should stay four years or that UCLA should only recruit players likely to stay for four years. We are saying that Howland should not be surprised if after next year Muhammad, Smith, Anderson, etc. leave Westwood for the NBA just as when he was "surprised" when Honeycutt, Lee, Holiday, etc. left. Howland should be prepared for all reasonable eventualities. A top-in-the-nation high school prospect leaving after one season cannot be a surprise anymore. Nor can a "veteran" with potential jumping into the draft after an All-Pac-12 season be considered a shocking development. There needs to be no more "surprises" for Howland. He needs to show he can effectively manage recruiting and roster management, planning for multiple different scenarios.
Howland needs to recruit another good class for 2013-14. That class must include a top-tier point guard. The importance of landing a top-tier point guard cannot be overstated. The last two seasons where UCLA has failed to play in the post-season, the Bruins had the same problem: a flawed starting PG. When that same player was a backup, the end result was UCLA going to the NCAA tournament. Even worse, was that in 2010-11, a losing season, Howland only had one PG on the roster. As of now, at best, by the time the 2013-14 season rolls around, Howland will only have Kyle Anderson as a PG/F, and at worse he will have no point guards on the roster. Howland must recruit an elite PG and another PG or combo. PG/SG with potential to develop for 2013.
Additionally, Howland needs to be successful in a way that brings pride to the UCLA community. In other words, Howland needs more players like AA and more stories like this one on LRMAM. And no more players that abscond with an "unattended laptop" or that cause nationwide embarrassment like Reeves Nelson.
While no UCLA coach should be given another chance after the last four years, Chianti Dan has decided to double-down on Ben Howland.
Howland had better make the best of this chance or else there should be no doubt for anyone he needs to go as soon as the season ends.