In that picture above, Darren Collison, now of the Los Angeles Clippers is being hugged by fellow Bruin Matt Barnes. Another Bruin, Ryan Hollins is coming over to congratulate Collison, while Clippers' Head Coach Doc Rivers pays his respects as well.
Collison led the Clippers comeback over the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday. DC had 18 points, 12 in the fourth quarter, including two key buckets late in the game to help preserve the Clippers' win. The series, now tied at 2 games apiece, returns to Oklahoma City for Game Five tomorrow.
UCLA fans had to love the last few minutes of the game, no matter who they were rooting for. When Rivers moved Clippers starting point guard Chris Paul over to Kevin Durant, the final few minutes put Collison on his Bruin teammate and backcourt mate Russell Westbrook. That's right -- it was Westbrook vs. Collison down the stretch in a classic NBA playoff game.
Now, to be clear, DC can't really play Westbrook even up. Westbrook is a force of nature out there, no one can really stop him -- not Collison, not Paul, not anyone. And Collison is just too small to do much with him. Still, he hung in and L.A. played good team defense on Durant and Westbrook and somehow came back from a 16-point fourth quarter deficit to even the series. A great, great game made even more special for UCLA fans.
After the game, though, the first thing I thought of was UCLA's 2007-08 season. That team had -- in case you don't remember -- Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook in the backcourt and a front line that included Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. If you're not an NBA fan, let me put that into perspective for you: that's two, flat out NBA All Star studs and two very solid NBA rotation players. If you had those four guys right now on your team, you're at least a .500 squad in the NBA and you probably make the playoffs.
But, somehow, UCLA could not win a national title with that team. That team lost to Memphis, who did have a stud of their own in Derrick Rose, but still -- our team that year was flat-out loaded. Four NBA players, two of them All Stars. Try and find another recent college team that started that much NBA talent. I'll wait.
(drums fingers on desk ... checks TMZ ... hmmm ... okay)
Ben Howland made a number of crucial mistakes in the Memphis game.
The first is obvious.
He should have let Westbrook match-up with Derrick Rose. Just like Collison can't really guard Westbrook now, he was physically overmatched against Rose. I hope this doesn't read like I'm knocking Collison, because I'm not. I love the kid and acknowledge he's a really good NBA player. But against big, physical guards like Westbrook and Rose, he's just overmatched. That's why he's a reserve in the league and not a starter. He's a very good reserve point guard on a top team or maybe a starter on a lottery team. But, really, being Chris Paul's back-up is the perfect spot for him.
I also think Howland did two other things wrong.
- He didn't realize what he had in Westbrook at all. If you had DC and RW two guys right now on the same team, you'd probably play DC off the ball. It would be unconventional, but no one can stop Westbrook, he's too quick, strong and athletic. You'd go without a traditional point guard.
- You wouldn't over coach it so much. You wouldn't call a play on every single possession.
The weird thing is: OKC knew what we had in Westbrook. Howland must have been shocked that Westbrook got drafted before Love. But OKC knew. And, btw, OKC is the best drafting team in the league. They screwed things up for their franchise by trading Harden to save money, but they hit on three lottery picks in a row with Durant, Westbrook and Harden. Ok, ok, Durant was a no brainer, but they hit on Westbrook and Harden in a league where teams screw up high picks all the time and also no one else was that high on Westbrook and Harden. They also hit on Serge Ibaka, and Steven Adams and Thabo Sefelosha. They know how to draft.
Howland, on the other hand, didn't see it. It's really too bad because had we won a national title then Howland wouldn't have panicked and changed the way he was doing things, leading to the downward spiral of the program. He has no one to blame but himself.
But we're paying the price, because when we finally had to let Howland go, we managed to hire a coach way worse than Ben himself.
The 2008 NCAA tournament is the great what-if of UCLA basketball. If we win Banner 12 that year, maybe Howland doesn't change what got him to where he was, he sticks with recruiting tough, defensive minded kids to go with the occasional All American and he sustains a high level.
But, now, we'll never know.
Rose, btw, was taken first in the '08 draft. Westbrook went fourth, Love fifth.
And, btw, not only did Howland fail to recognize what he had in Westbrook and keep him off the ball while Collison stayed at point, he did the same thing the next year with Jrue Holiday. Holiday, btw, is also an NBA point guard. Collison, has never made an All Star team.