The failure of this program is not on the kids.
it's on the Coach who recruited them -- in a desperate attempt to save his job -- and cannot figure out how to either teach or deploy them.
And, it's on the AD who got lost in the bright lights of the "#1 recruiting class" glamour and didn't do what he should have done, last year -- fire the coach who was destroying our legacy program.
Many wrote last year, that there was no way this desperate ploy was going to succeed in this program. Those prophecies have proven to be true. And, here's why:
1. These kids were not required to play defense in high school. They came to college to learn to do so. And, they have not.
It's clear that the strongest card Coach Howland played during the recruiting battles that netted this class is the "I will teach you how to play Man D like I taught AA and his mates". These kids made clear that they were coming to learn to play man D. And, therein lies a big part of the failure of this team.
First, it's not clear that they have the physical tools needed to play man D. They are not Aaron Afflalo. They are not as fast as he was. And, they are not as strong as he was. And, he was not an avowed "one-and-done". His prowess was nurtured over years. And, no one was more mentally tough.
For any coach to promise them that they would come out of one year ready to play man D in the NBA was false advertising.
And, it put the coach in a terrible bind. Having promised them "man D" he could not change paths and teach and implement a zone D that would better fit their and the team's talents. I guess in some sense, what we see as stubbornness in refusing to play zone is actually an honorable attempt by the coach to keep his promise by working on and playing only man.
It's a promise that should never have been made -- especially to this group of kids. As great as they are, they are not physically prepared to play man -- all game long (or for the major part of it.)
2. This #1 class contains but one player with the body to go up against upper classmen -- SM. The others need to build muscle and stamina -- something that is to be expected of freshmen.
The problem is that the desperation strategy seems not to have factored this in. Give Kyle, Jordan and Tony a year in the weight room -- especially with someone of Alosi's ability -- and they will come back stronger and faster. Better able to hold or establish position, and better able to play the long minutes that our rotation seems to demand.
Our kids that stayed two or three years before jumping to the NBA are examples of the difference a year or two can make in one's body. Russell Westbrook was talented as a freshman -- a beast as a sophomore.
These kids have not gotten stronger during the year. In fact, because of the minutes they have to play, they are actually burning out -- which was to be expected.
(One final note -- even our successful one and done, KL, did not get in shape until after the season ended and he dropped out of school to train.)
3. By chasing off Smith and Lamb, and the players in the previous years, the coach eliminated the safety net that the young players might need should they either not be up for the rigors of playing first string and for an entire game. And, the players that stayed behind, good kids they may be, are not physically dominant enough to overcome the weaknesses of the freshmen. They play hard, but not strong. So the rebounding duty falls on a very thin Kyle Anderson and Shabazz when he is challenged to do so.
Everyone knew that Parker would be a project. That means he would have to be developed -- no secret. But he has not been. If anything, he's been made worse because he's been cheated of the joy of playing and the time needed to learn to play at game speed. I like the Wear kids. But, if the toughest challenge you face is both of them, you are not going to get much better.
We are being beat up and outmuscled. No one figured we would have to rely on the freshmen inside -- we had Smith and Stover. By losing both of them, we have put the young kids in a bad place.
4. We have not tried to escape that bad place by playing zone and/or deploying our players in a way that protects them from being pushed around and/or burning out. I've already discussed this. My theory is that we are sticking to man D, even though it is failing, because that's how Howland recruits. He can't give it up because it's the only thing that seems to make him special.
5. Instead we've gone to a watered down version of the run and shoot -- just outscore people system. However, we really have but two of the young kids who came with the "scoring" credential -- Shabazz and Jordan. If you are not going to play defense and/or rebound, you cannot field a team where but 2 of the players are sure-thing scorers. And, when they don't, you see what happens. Certainly, no one would have bet on that strategy were the bet presented clearly. "We will not play D. We will have but two people who can score consistently. But, they are both very young." Most people would have said, it's too great a risk. And, it has proved to be one.
So, this season's failures were not unexpected -- because we have a coach whose last few years has given no indications that he can evaluate, teach and nurture talent.
He has created this mess over a period of years. And, he has been enabled by a failing AD.
So, you all knew this, already. Why did I take the time to post it?
Because, creeping into the dialoge on the failure of this program are attacks on the kids in our freshman class. Those attacks are unfair and misplaced.
They came with talent, enthusiasm and the desire to learn. They are great kids -- individually and as a group. This is not what they expected and clearly not what they wanted.
To hold them accountable for this mess is to have a myopic view of what has been going on in this program.
To hold them accountable for this mess is to buy into the desperation that allowed this coach one more year.
To hold them accountable for this mess is to shield a coach and AD who should have been gone last year -- and who must be gone before the program is irreparably damaged.
Don't blame the kids. Each may have a bad game or make a bad mistake. That is to be expected.
Blame the coach and AD who have been making bad mistakes over a long period of time and have yet to be held accountable.