Though I understand your appreciation of Ben Howland and the heights he had taken the UCLA Basketball program many, many years ago, I just cannot understand your undying support at this point of his tenure. Like most, I was on the Ben Howland bandwagon from day 1, as he was successful in making Northern Arizona relevant and did the same thing with Pittsburgh (plus I despised Lavin so much that anybody would've been better). He was no-nonsense, straightforward and he wanted to be here. He understood UCLA's Basketball legacy and its place in the college basketball landscape. Most importantly, though, his reverence for Coach Wooden was glowingly obvious and welcomed by all Bruins. There was going to be no more of Lavin's hyperbole and rhetoric; no more embarrassing the program; no more avoiding watching the games because they were painful to watch.
Though I had my own expectations of the program, they weren't too high. I wanted:
1) A competitive team.
2) NCAA tournament every year and advancement within.
3) A Top 10 team but could live with a sometime off year and Top 25 could be acceptable.
4) To be in conversation for the Final Four and National Championship most years.
5) A clean program.
6) Top recruits, especially in Southern California.
Not much to ask of what should be the BEST basketball program in the country, right? And you know what? Coach Howland met and/ or exceeded all of my expectations! It may have been disappointing to not win a National Championship but the excitement I had within each season and reaching the Final Four was so gratifying. This is what I wanted. Coach Howland was the coach I've been waiting my whole life for (I was too young to witness Coach).
At some point, things started to go the wrong direction. After our last Final Four, all of my expectations that I had when Coach Howland was hired and so thankfully exceeded were now not being met. In some years, not even close to it. It's one thing at first, when maybe we suck it up for a year or (gulp!) two, but now that the sample size has grown to five years, the facts are too overwhelming to deny. With the exception of running a clean program (which I believe we are, though there are many in disagreement), everything else has failed miserably, Howland-ites. I was still on the Howland bandwagon through last season. I thought he earned that much, though many friends and others were in disagreement. At the end of the season I knew it was time to go. I was thankful for his service to the program and the successes he had, but they were too far removed to support him any longer. I thought it was time to move on. I knew Dan Guerrero would not feel the same way.
With that, this season has been much as I expected: boring basketball, if not often-times embarrassing; clueless play, both offensively and defensively; Josh Smith showing up enormous; one midseason transfer (I did not expect two!); some highs but more lows. I could go on. The one thing I didn't really expect, however, was the continued strong support of Coach Howland by so many people (I'm so thankful to Bruins Nation and their feeling of my misery). I just don't get it and it frustrates the hell out of me. Most of the pro-Howland arguments I read, with all due respect (though I'm not entirely positive that the respect is due) seem to be from those who just don't seem to know anything about basketball. They are weak, uninformed and ill formed. They make me wonder if they enjoy basketball, it's intricacies and beauty, it's entertainment and athleticism, or if they just...well, I don't know. Are you happy with a 22-7 record, NCAA Tournament berth and early-round exit? Is that good enough for you? Are your expectations of mediocrity? Because that's what that is.
Since you don't seem to be able to see how bad things are with your eyes, I've put together some rather simple numbers for you.
Here, along with UCLA, are probably the five top programs in the country, their records through today and NCAA Tournament appearances since Coach Howland was hired (he is in his 10th season). Tournaments based on nine seasons an do not count this year:
- Duke: 290 - 61, 82.6%, 9 NCAA Tournament
- Kansas: 295 - 57, 83.8%, 9 NCAA Tournaments
- Kentucky: 261 - 86, 75.2%, 7 NCAA Tournaments (Note: When Tubby Smith was eliminated two years in a row in the 2nd round, he was forced out. When Billy Gillispie missed tournament two consecutive years, he was fired.)
- North Carolina: 279 - 76: 78.6%, 8 NCAA Tournaments
- Louisville: 256 - 91, 73.8%, NCAA 9 Tournaments
- UCLA: 230 - 105, 68.7%, 6 NCAA Tournaments
Plus, in UCLA’s last four years:
- 78 - 51, 60.5%, 2 NCAA Tournaments missed out of 3
Coach Howland's winning percentage is closer to that of Lavin's 65.0% than he is any of the above. Jim Harrick's winning percentage was 75.6%, which is considerably off. Just a reminder, Harrick and Lavin made the NCAA Tournament 14 consecutive years. Even as horrible of a coach Lavin was he still only missed the Tournament his very last year, And, Lavin's winning percentage was of 59.1% in his last four years is pretty spot-on with Howland's over his last four.
We obviously are not keeping up with the programs that we should be competing with yearly. We haven't done that since our last Final Four in 2008. As a matter of fact since our last Final Four, we are 5-13 versus ranked opponents. How is this acceptable?
Let's look at our recruiting, and I think these are the scariest facts. In the last four years (not counting this year yet, as who knows what will happen), here is how UCLA recruits have panned out:
- 3 NBA early entries: Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee, Tyler Honeycutt. (Out of the three only Holiday should have gone. Lee and Honeycutt were drafted in the 2nd round and just wanted get away from Howland. Unfortunately for Honeycutt, the Rockets just released him. Oh, what could have been...)
- 3 kicked off of team: Reeves Nelson, Drew Gordon, Anthony Stover. (Way to get the high-character guys!)
- 7 transfers: J'mison Morgan, Brendan Lane, Mike Moser, Josh Smith, Tyler Lamb, Matt Carlino, De'End Parker.(For one reason or another, Howland just blew in on all these guys. As for Parker, he was a junior college transfer. When did UCLA have to resort to recruiting players out of junior college? Oh yeah, when recruits started saying NO. And that isn't a no to UCLA, it's a no to Howland.)
- 1 four-year player: Jerime Anderson. (Considerable disappointment, based on his ranking coming into UCLA.)
- 1 two-year junior college transfer: Lazeric Jones. (Another junior college player. Really?)
- 1 still with team: Norman Powell. (Norman, you have won the war of attrition.)
And let us not forget that we only have eight scholarship players, three of whom are North Carolina transfers. 37.5% of our scholarship players are from the University of North Carolina! What has happened, Howland-ites? Please tell me what excuse you have for this?
I am not unreasonable. I do not have unrealistic expectations. I’m not asking for too much. I am, however, a Bruin and a diehard fan and lover of UCLA Basketball. I appreciate the good times that Coach Howland has provided but like many relationships, sometimes the damage is done and you just can’t fix it. I’m ready to move on, Howland-ites, why aren’t you?