I know its football season. But gotta talk about our other meat and potato sport, considering some news have been brewing on hoops recruiting. JD over at hoops scoop has a pretty good post on current status of Bruin basketball recruiting. Looks like Howland is having a hard time with couple of local recruits, who would have addressed needed depth for big men in our roster. JD has a solid analysis on some of the reasons why Howland is facing some obstacles in recruiting and ended with this note:
Howland took over a program, which was burned into the ground by the worst coach in the history of college football. No ... that is not exaggeration, Howland took over a program which was coming off two worst back-to-back years since the days of pre-Wooden. Steve Lavin, the dog shit basketball coach, who now pretends to be in-studio "analyst," was a lazy, incompetent, worthless piece of shit individual, who spent most of his time whining to the clueless national press (read DUKE Vitale and Brett Musburger) about those meanie, unreasonable (Notre Dame like) UCLA basketball fans giving him a hard time for underachieving seasons, chasing tail, and watching Montel's day time show from his Morgan Center officers, rather than spending time on the recruiting trail, and trying to teach his blue chip athletes some basketball. Lavin finished UCLA basketball. We were done.
And, that's what Ben Howland inherited - a ravaged program, with an unbalanced roster, which was devoid of a true leader (Dijon finally somewhat came into his own past season, after being under Howland's tutelage for more than a year), and had no concept of what it meant to play fundamental basketball, featuring hard nosed basic defense, set plays, and playing smart. Howland made incredible progress this past season, guiding a team, essentially being led by three freshmen into the big dance, when no one sane in Westwood was expecting more than a 15-17 win season and an NIT berth. Yet, the Bruins came along this past season, had few memorable games (including a big win over Washington), played hard, and made the tourney. On top of that, Howland brought in two top-5/10 recruiting classes in his first two season, despite being saddled with the handicap of inheriting a ravaged, sullied program, and having to compete not only against elite national powers and the West Coast ones like Arizona and Stanford, but also programs like Washington, Gonzaga, which came into their own at UCLA's expense during the Lavin era. So given the totality of circumstances, Howland has UCLA right on track of having a good season, based upon which he will continue to build and revitalize our cherished basketball program in Westwood.
To put things in perspective, let's look back at our immediate past - the Jim Harrick era in Westwood. Harrick also inherited a UCLA program down in the dumps, but arguably he took over a program with little more talent which had a natural leader like Pooh Richardson retiring for his senior season, complimented by freshmen phenom Don McLean, who had a break out season right from the get go. Yet, it was really in his fourth season (91-92), when Harrick put together his first complete season in Westwood, beating Arizona at home and on the road, winning the Pac-10 championship, and taking the team all the way to Elite-8, before totally flaming out against the Hoosiers. Harrick kept McLean from not committing elsewhere, and brought in his first decent class (Murray, Butler, Zimmerman (CO player of the year! Lol) after his first season in Westwood. He landed Ed O'Bannon after his season by sheer luck, as NCAA slapped the shark of UNLV with probation. Ed'O and Shawn Tarver were all set to go to UNLV, until the NCAA gods served up some much needed justice, steering those kids right into Westwood. Rest was history. Ed in large part was instrumental in brining in Charles, who later attracted the legendary class (at least to the 90s crowd) of J.R., Kris, Toby & Omma. If not for that lucky break of Ed'O, Harrick's legacy would have been limited to Murray, Butler, Martin, Zimmerman and foreign players like Richard Petruska and George Zidek (and we love George).
Anyways, what I am really trying to say here, it is not worth getting all worked up right now about losing two big men like Stephenson and Thompson to East Coast powers. Not worth it at all. I remember us getting all worked up over losing kids like Cherokee 90210 Parks to PUKE during Harrick's fourth season, thinking it was going to gloom and doom for UCLA basketball. Yet it all worked out.
I realize how big ESPN and Nike have become in influencing college hoops scene. But I also think ESPN is somewhat on the down turn. I may be alone here, but I believe the MTVization of ESPN, highlighting buffoons loudmouths like Stephen A. Smith, posers like A.C. Slater will backfire. Also, smart college sports fans are getting turned off from a network, which is still using the tired old 80s model of talking sports by trotting out retread dog shit fired coaches like Davies, Lavin, Donnan etc. as analysts to their audience. It will catch up with them. And, I personally like the fact that we are different than Nike, can stand on our own under Addidas, just like Notre Dame football program and New York Yankees are sporting that brand, giving a big F U to Phil Knight's sweat shop.
And, when I hear people complaining about facilities, and locker rooms, I keep thinking of how baseball teams with sweet clubhouses, lounge chairs (Texas, Detroit, Milwaukee), are all sitting at home watching the playoffs, while Boston Red Sox (ok.. they will be gone tonight most likely) are defending their world series championship from the Fenway Park. Yes, Pauley has some issues, but that is something we can work on. Although I agree with JD we can do some easy adjustments, like sitting the students behind the basketball (respectfully disagreeing with Coach Wooden's wishes on not creating an intimidating atmosphere on home court), and perhaps situating the TV cameras on the opposite side, so that they are focused on the student section, giving the TV audience some sense of the energized student body.
And it will all work out. We have Jordan and Aaron, two of the most tenacious balers to hit Pauley since Ed'O and Tyus. These kids are not going to be passive aggressive talents. They want to win. You can sense that from the way Jordan and Aaron were stepping up in the free thrown lines during key game last season. They (along with Josh Shipp of course, who will be back by the Pac-10 season) have ICE WATER flowing through their veins, they want to win, and most importantly it is pretty apparent that they realize where their place in history will be, if they restore some of the magic and mystique around UCLA. It will happen.
It may not happen in the form of a Final-4 run this season, but it will happen in the form of consistent, hard nosed, smart, fundamental basketball, which will reestablish UCLA as a basketball power, in the model of Utah and Stanford under Majerus and Montgomery. And ... yes ... we are getting James Keefe ... next year. And if Jordan goes pro at the end of this season, Howland will have DC, primed and ready to step in after one year under his program.
One last note, the obstacles Howland faced during his first two years of program is just another reason we want a resolution concerning the head coaching situation of UCLA football. Because if Karl Dorrell cannot take advantage of the stacked cupboard of talent, Toledo left him, then given the lack of infusion of talent on our DL last two seasons, and the tough schedules we have in football in next two season, we are potentially looking at disastrous, mediocre football seasons, which will permanently leave UCLA football in a deep hole, just like UCLA basketball was in when Lavin was mercifully fired in 2003.
That is why this season is so crucial for Karl Dorrell, but also the long term future of UCLA football. If Dorrell doesn't produce this season, he needs to be fired, (just like Lavin should have been fired in 2000), so that the next football coach is going to face obstacles digging out of ...just like Howland.
Let's just hope Dorrell wins tomorrow, continues to win and notch that 9/10 win season with a win over USC. We will be more than happy to admit we were wrong in doubting his ability to come up with a big season. This way we will able to celebrate the forward trajectory of both major sports at the same time - enjoying the continued rebuilding of UCLA hoops, while finally being optimistic about the long term future of UCLA football. GO BRUINS.